By Virginia Buffett
When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely, he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often, of course, the situation is too tough for him.
In the same way the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him. Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles are all that the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one.
Karl A. Menninger
She is an unassuming woman, older…probably in her sixties. She has a gentle, kindly looking face; oval shaped and well weathered, lined with the deep, dark creases that only the sun and years of hard living could leave behind. She has a prominent nose with watery pale blue eyes behind gold, wire-framed glasses. She smells like ‘old lady’ and recycled garlic. Her teeth are a mess. Her hair is a frizzy mixture of light brown and grey and cut so short that she could easily disguise herself as an old man. She is small, but surprisingly physically fit for a woman her age. I have to sadly admit that she is in better shape than me and I’m at least twenty years her junior. She speaks in soft, condescending tones with a slight German accent. I studied her suspiciously as Dr. Eva A. Stark leaned back in her chair, folded her hands into her lap and just looked at me.
“Am I supposed to start off?” I asked.
This wasn’t my first time in a “shrink’s” office. I have spent most of my life in therapy of one sort or another, to no avail. I didn’t hold out much hope that this was going to be much different; and don’t even get me started on the words: therapy and therapist either! I hate those words! When I see or hear them, all I ever really see are two words: the rapist. From my point of view; how am I ever supposed to trust a rapist?
Yeah, I know! That is far-fetched, even for me. But these are the thoughts that go through my mind when I see or hear those terms and I sometimes have trouble separating reality from my own mind’s meanderings.
She smiled and said in her soft, condescending way, “This is your time, I’m here to assist you in exploring your feelings, but I can’t do that if I don’t know what they are.”
“Then, I suppose that makes two of us!” I snapped back at her. She remained silent and I began picking at my hangnails. The silence was deafening. She didn’t budge.
“Well, pick a feeling!” I finally exclaimed! “My head is swimming with them! I just can’t catch one long enough to see it, much less actually feel it!”
“That’s a good place to start,” She said softly, “Maybe you could tell me what that looks like.”
She smiled at me. I glared at her.
I released a frustrated sigh, looked up at the small water stain on the ceiling for a moment to gather my thoughts, and then said, “It’s like I’m in this room full of bouncing super balls…all different colors, all different sizes, all bouncing at different speeds and trajectories around the room and around my head. Each one is a thought or a memory or a feeling, but I can’t tell which is which and I can’t catch one long enough to examine it. Or maybe, I don’t really want to catch one. The truth is I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what I might actually catch! So these balls just keep whizzing past me, making me dizzy and confused. I guess if you want me to come up with a feeling, I’d have to say: tired, overwhelmed, confused and frustrated!”
“That’s four feelings,” she said, “Why don’t you pick one of them and tell me about that?”
“It’s just so exhausting!” I whined, “Trying to sort through all those feelings, thoughts, emotions, memories; the sheer enormity of the task seems so insurmountable!”
“The best way to eat an elephant” she practically whispered, “is one bite at a time.”
This was actually my third session with Dr. Stark. I was trying to keep an open mind, but unfortunately, my mind was already clouded with mistrust, preconceived notions and self-sabotaging conclusions.
Her office was small and cluttered with no windows or ventilation that I could see. It was stuffy and intimidating. She had a medium sized desk that was overtaken by a jumbled mess of papers, folders, and various office paraphernalia. Her computer was covered with sticky notes and on the wall behind her desk was a large cork-board that had very little open space left on it. She had two overflowing bookshelves; an almost empty trash can in front of an old-fashioned coat rack and a small table with three chairs around it. All this was in a room not much bigger than my bathroom at home.
Her desk was against the right wall. The two bookshelves were against the far wall and just to the left of her door was the table. The table was pushed against the wall with the three chairs arranged around the three open sides of it.
Curiously, she sat in the middle chair. I had to decide if I wanted to plop myself down in the immediate chair or brush past her to occupy the chair on the opposite side of the table.
I mention this because she changed things up on me the second day. For session two, she stepped aside and gestured toward the far chair, which I obediently took. She then sat in the middle chair again. The table was so small that our elbows were practically touching. I didn’t realize at the time, but she did this so that I could look over the papers that she was going to be expecting me to sign. This was just the tedious formality of the intake. I was very relieved when, by session three, she finally settled at a relatively safe distance; in the far chair, as I sat across from her, in the first one.
I’d been through intakes before. I knew basically what to expect from it but it never gets any easier and the close proximity to her was more than a little disconcerting. This intake was just more of the same old ridicules and intruding questions on seemingly endless forms to fill out, that I had encountered with previous therapist. There were no surprises, but I hate intakes. I hate them because I’m talking to a person that I just met and trying to come up with answers to intimate questions about my life story with responses that can be typed into short spaces on a generic form. A form (or many forms, to be exact) that is then to be filed away and reviewed by G-d knows how many other people!
By the end of the first session, we were only halfway through the intake and I was already wishing that I had a stamp with my signature on it! None of this was her fault and I could tell that she was just as frustrated with the tedium of intakes as I was, howbeit; for different reasons. She had to endure them over and over again, with each new client. And I knew that she had even more paperwork to finish after each client left. She was just following protocol, rules that were put into place by someone higher up on the pay scale. The whole thing was beyond her control.
I didn’t hold it against her,
Now finally, we were beginning session number three. As I looked across the table at her, there were no more papers to sign. No more stupid questions to answer. This was the first time we could actually get down to business. Now it was time for me to decide if I was going to trust this woman or insult her intelligence by just coming up with all the “pat” answers I knew by heart as I had done in most of my previous therapy encounters.
I had already determined that I didn’t like her, but it was only session three and I kept telling myself that I needed to give it more time. I knew that I was being unfair, petty, and selfish with my snap-judgment of her. But I am mistrusting of professionals, super-sensitive and insecure by nature. I’ve had numerous bad encounters with professionals in the past.
Not just professionals.
The truth is; I repel people. I automatically assume that people will not like me, so I jump the gun. I consistently make an ass out of myself when meeting new people.
For instance, in the first session, I was starting to get uncomfortable with some of her questions and I wanted to take back some control, so I decided to try to shock her with an “off the wall” and very inappropriate comment. She just ignored my attempt and went right on with the interview as if she hadn’t heard a word I just said! I felt as though I was talking to the side of her head! I didn’t realize at the time that she did hear what I had said, but was in control of the session and not willing to show me a reaction.
It didn’t get much better in the second session, either. I was angry about something in my personal life and since she was supposed to be my “shrink,” I tried to get into it. She was so focused on the intake that she wouldn’t take the time to address my issue. I understand the protocol of “first things first” and all, but I was clearly upset about something! Couldn’t she take some time to acknowledge that?
Nope! She was all business.
Bless her heart!
Then today; our appointment was supposed to start at 1:45 pm, she didn’t even call me into her office until 2:00 pm, but that wasn’t the clincher! When she sat down on her side of the table, she realized that she did not have my folder in front of her. She got up and went over to her desk. After a few minutes of searching, she had to excuse herself to go look for it in another room! She came back empty-handed and apologized to me for apparently misplacing my information. She then proclaimed that the intake was ‘mostly’ finished anyway…so, she leaned back in her chair and expected me to start the show.
Again, I know these are petty reasons to decide not to like someone; but I have been hurt so many times, by so many people, that I struggle with trust issues. I come by my trepidation honestly, believe me! I know intellectually that I am just looking for excuses, but emotionally I am a mess!
I’m so torn, angry, confused, and so afraid to let new people into my world. I’m convinced that I’ll just get hurt again. I know that I bring on most of my relationship problems myself, but I have no idea how to reverse the vicious cycle my mind is trapped in.
I’ve told myself that therapist don’t really care about me. They are just paid prostitutes. Instead of their bodies, I’m paying for their time and feigned interest. Nobody really cares about me! Who am I kidding? Why do I keep coming back to them? No clue. I just keep hoping each experience will be different than the last. I keep hoping to connect with someone; someone who really cares about me and who can successfully help me. I just keep hoping that somehow, some way, I can find healing. I want to believe it is going to be possible in my lifetime.
Unfortunately, the hope is minuscule and the qualm is mountainous.
Now, as I sit here trying to figure out how to take that first bite of my elephant, I can’t help noticing her eyes. They are a very pretty shade of light blue, but it is not the color that I am drawn to. It is the tired, beaten down look of someone who has seen her share of heartache in her own life! I can’t help thinking to myself that she will understand me…she has been to some of my dark places! It shows in her sad eyes!
I like her eyes. I see more in those eyes, besides weary empathy. I also see intelligence and wisdom, even if she did misplace my paperwork! Maybe I’m way off and she just has a headache, but I can see that she has human frailties. I like the fact that I can see that plainly.
I guess she’ll do.
“Well, I guess I can start by telling you that I have trouble sticking to therapy,” I said.
“Why do you suppose that is?” she asked.
“Oh, I start off OK,” I answered, “but as soon as we start getting into feelings, I freeze up. I do such a good job of pushing them down. I hate to allow them to surface in any way…
“…What makes you so convinced that you are doing a good job of keeping them down?” she interjected.
“What do you mean by that?” I snapped!
“Well, according to the things I’ve learned about you so far, based on the intake, you are a self-mutilator, you are a binge eater, you suffer from severe depression, and you have trouble sleeping. It seems to me that you don’t really have those feelings pushed all that far down after all. I believe those feelings are there, just under the surface…tormenting you and you don’t know how to deal with them, so you numb yourself any way that you can. Isn’t that the reason you binge eat?”
“NO! It’s NOT! I binge eat because I can’t get full! No matter how much I eat, no matter how sick it makes me, I’m never full. There is a hole in the bottom of my soul and nothing that I stuff into it, ever plugs it for long. And you are wrong about the numbing thing too! Actually, it is just the opposite. I hurt myself to FEEL. I feel so numb inside most of the time that I feel like I’m already dead; my body just didn’t get the memo. I’m shuffling along, just going through the motions and faking my life. The self-mutilation gives me something to focus on. It doesn’t matter what I do to myself physically, nothing hurts as much as the emotional pain that is inside of me. I long for some remedy for that pain.
I’ve tried numerous things.
When I was a kid, I spent many hours hiking alone in the woods and exploring creeks. If I found nettles or a bramble patch, I’d deliberately walk through it, roll in it. Or I would take the copper scouring pads from the kitchen sink and use them on my skin in the bathtub. I would find something, anything to tear my skin in so many places and so deep that the pain on the outside would make me forget the pain on the inside, at least for a little while.
I experimented with the razor blades inside of my dad’s old-fashioned razors, but I wasn’t trying to kill myself or even get attention. Actually, I tried to find places that didn’t show or I would use places that were already scarred so that the new scars would just cover old ones and nobody would notice.
Later, I discovered burning. The burning sensation is actually comforting. It is just so much easier to concentrate on physical pain. I don’t like to hurt myself, but at least when I burn myself, I don’t have to do it as often. The pain of a burn lasts for weeks.
I have to say, of all the abuse that I’ve suffered in my life, it was the emotional abuse that was exponentially worse than all the rest put together! That accumulated emotional pain inside of me needs a release valve or it will go nuclear! That is why I stick needles into my belly. I’m releasing pressure! It’s not something I want to do. It is what I have to do, to survive.”
Fighting back the tears, I went on,
“One of the reasons that I have not been successful in therapy in the past, rather, why therapy has been so hard for me; is the fact that it takes me at least 20 minutes to warm up enough to talk about anything significant, then when I start getting into something really tough or painful…the next thing I know, the therapist is looking at his or her watch and announcing that the session is over! I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have walked out of a therapy session feeling like I had just been raped!
If emotions could manifest themselves physically on the body, then people would see me stumble out of those sessions with open, gaping, festering wounds! I end up hurting all the way home and long into the night. While that therapist has left work behind, gone home and is obliviously relaxing after a long day; I’m reeling and spiraling ever closer to a frightening abyss!
These are the times that I burn myself. I burn more when I am in therapy than I ever do when I am not. Therapy brings up too much emotional pain. I get overwhelmed. I just can’t deal with it all, and so I have to release some of it.
By the time the next session rolls around, I’m skittish and afraid that it will happen again. So, I am once again sluggish with my feelings and slow to start talking. By that, I mean really talking, not just small talk or bitching about some stupid annoyance! It’s a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself. If I don’t hurt myself, I try to stuff the feelings down with food or fantasize about suicide. One hour, or usually it’s just 45 minutes, just isn’t enough time for me. I would rather see you less often for longer sessions.” I finished with a deep, mournful sigh.
“I see your point.” she replied, “but unfortunately my time doesn’t work that way. I have other clients besides you and only so many hours in a work week.”
“I understand that.” I said, dejectedly; “but that doesn’t make it any easier for me. I’m only explaining my dilemma to you. I’m not expecting you to fix it. I guess I’m just wishing out loud. The sad truth is, I wish I had someone who would listen to all my whining because they want to; not because they are getting paid to.
I’m realistic enough to know that is not possible. Human beings are selfish by nature. Nobody really wants to listen to somebody wallow in self-pity or doom and gloom; thus, the success of your profession, and thus the reason why I equate your profession with prostitution. I don’t mean that in the sexual sense at all. I just mean that you wouldn’t be sitting here in this room with me, giving me ‘most’ of your attention, if there wasn’t a paycheck involved.
Please don’t take offense. I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’m just stating the cold, hard facts; as I see them. After all, prostitution is just a profession. You are just a different kind of professional, but you are getting paid to put up with me.
I have so much crap to wade through, that I must admit, it is going to take a professional. I just really have no clue where to begin!” I looked down at my hangnails again.
“Wow! I’d say that you are doing a pretty good job of beginning today! Your analogy of the super balls gave me a very clear picture of what is bogging you down, making you so tired and overwhelmed; discouraging you from seeking the help that you need…”
“…No!” I interjected, “What discourages me from seeking help is the judgment that I get from people who have no clue what I have been through or what I am going through!” I sat back in a huff and crossed my arms over my chest.
“As I was saying,” She patiently continued, “I was able to picture that roomful of bouncing balls in my own mind. It did seem overwhelming, but in order to tackle the job of sorting out and putting away all those balls, we need only to begin. Together, we can get through this; one bouncing ball at a time!
Virginia, you have a lifetime of those super balls bouncing around in that head of yours. You mustn’t look at them en’mass. And you don’t have to look at them alone. We can do that together, but we need to just focus on one or two at a time. It didn’t take just one or two days for you to accumulate them and you won’t sort them all out in a couple of therapy sessions with me.
You have also presented the issue of the short sessions and I really see your point. But since that is not something we can change, maybe we can work out a plan that can keep you safe when you leave my office.”
“Oh, you therapist and your stupid ‘plans’ to supposedly keep your clients safe!” I exclaimed rudely, “They are not realistic! You just don’t get it! Don’t you realize that no plan or promise is going to work if a mentally ill person is in an unstable, self-destructive frame of mind? We can’t even help ourselves when our minds and emotions are running away with us! That’s the whole nature of mental illness! When a person is thinking about hurting themselves, they are not thinking clearly. If they are not thinking clearly, how can you expect them to honor some stupid plan or even promise? If we could self-regulate our emotions, we would not need medication or Psychotherapy!
Hel-lo!” I exclaimed as I rolled my eyes at her.
“Besides, it won’t be necessary.” I backpedaled, “I haven’t hurt myself in quite a long time. I’m just explaining what has happened in the past and why I felt the need to do the things that I have done. They were just coping mechanisms.
(I couldn’t resist throwing in just one of my “pat” answers).”
“What makes you so certain that it won’t happen again?” She asked, ignoring my rudeness.
“Because things are different now,” I said confidently, “in the past, I didn’t have the Holy Spirit to guide and protect me. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only reason I am not dead today.”
“Yes, you mentioned during the intake that you are a Mor-mutt,” she replied, “What exactly did you mean by that?
“Well,” I began, “I have been baptized into the Mormon Church, but I have deep Baptist roots as well, and I have this philosophy:
I believe that G-d gave his truth to Moses on Mount Sinai. That truth was a mirror for all of mankind to look into and see their true selves. When Moses smashed those two tablets in his anger over the golden calf, that truth was shattered into a billion pieces and each man took a tiny shard of that truth and went off to start his own ‘religion.’
That is why I believe that there are shards of truth in all religions. There is truth in all myths and truth in every lie. Satan’s best lie is a half-truth; because the truthful part is believable, the lie is more easily accepted. He told Eve the truth, mixed with his deceitfulness back in the Garden.
Did you know that Adam lived 930 years and the oldest man to EVER live (Methuselah) lived 960 years? The Bible teaches in 2 Peter 3:8; that 1000 years on Earth is equal to one day in Heaven. So, G-d was not lying to Adam when He told him that if he ate of the fruit, he would die that day. G-d was speaking in Heaven’s terms. 930 years is within that 1000 year “day” in Heaven. Based on that truth, Adam DID die the “day” that he ate of the fruit. Satan twisted that truth, by telling Adam that he wouldn’t actually die that very day.
The truth is: death is also a separation, and he was separated from G-d; the very moment that he disobeyed Him. It was a spiritual separation, but it was a separation. His soul was dead (separated from) G-d. Do you see how Satan told the truth but mixed it with a lie?
Anyway, I am not a fan of organized religion. When man starts to organize G-d’s word, Satan’s work is done. We (man) take G-d’s words and mix it with our own ideas. I believe there is no pure word of G-d left on this Earth that has not been contaminated by us.
The sad fact is, you can slap the words “Holy Bible” onto the back of a comic book and some damn fool will preach “Superman” to you!
As I stated before, I DO believe that every religion has shards of G-d’s original truth. It has been my life’s goal to gather those shards
I like A LOT of eastern religions, especially Buddhism’s teaching on the eight-fold path, Karma, Nirvana and even some of the reincarnation stuff (although I must admit that Nirvana scares me a little bit). I am firm in the belief that The Book of Mormon is inspired by G-d, but I also believe in the Tao Ta Ching, some of the Baklavad Gita, and some of the Koran. I believe there is a lot of truth in the Epic of Gilgamesh. I believe that Native American cosmology has many nuggets of truth, as do Greek, Norse and Celtic “Mythology.” I am an avid follower of Judaism because I believe that it was the Jews that G-d gave his truth to and monotheism came from G-d through his chosen people, the Jews. Every religion that followed after Moses came out of the root and trunk of Jewdaism. I have read many books on world religions and I have taken in much inspiration and wisdom from those differing perspectives. Honestly, I believe you can find the inspired words of G-d in Moby Dick if you look hard enough.
I believe that G-d spoke to Joseph Smith and inspired the Book of Mormon, but I also believe that G-d speaks to me, and billions of other people. When I write a poem, I believe it is inspired by G-d. Do I call it scripture? No. But who am I to decide what scripture truly is? And who were those Franciscan monks to decide what Cannon was and was not? Is G-d in a box (the AV 1611 King James) like the Baptists believe? Again, a resounding NO!
I also believe that no man has the whole truth and no religion on this Earth is the ‘true’ religion. I had to come to that conclusion after joining the Mormons because they (as does EVERY other religion) believe that they have the whole truth.
I used to believe that at first, too.
But I do not anymore.
I have a mind of my own and I am not a blind follower of ANY man. The Bible says in Romans, “Yay, let God be true but every man a liar.” That includes the Mormon’s beloved Prophet. The Catholic’s beloved Pope, The Buddhist’s beloved Buddha, and the Muslim’s beloved Mohamed.
So, I am not a true Mormon (besides, I love coffee!) but I am a mixture of many truths and ‘religions’, hence the name: Mor-mutt.” I finished with a satisfied grin.
Dr. Stark sat back and just looked at me.
“What?” I asked impatiently.
“You are a very wise woman, Virginia.” She took a breath and continued, “I’ve never heard truer words, nor considered the implications of your philosophy on religion before. You have given me some things to ponder about.
You have the potential to heal yourself. You have a spark that is contagious.” She looked into my eyes and smiled sweetly, flashing me those hideous teeth, but I was not focused on her teeth. I was searching her eyes, looking for deceit, trying to determine if she really meant those things she had just said to me.
I let a tear escape, and then quickly brushed it away. “Is that more psycho-babble?” I asked rudely. “Are you just giving me affirmations and bullshit, as they taught you in school, or do you mean some of that?”
“No bullshit, Virginia. I meant every word.” She softly replied.
I just stared at her and for once, had no snarky response.
We sat there, staring into each other’s eyes, neither one flinching.
I didn’t know what to make of her and I had no clue what she was thinking of me. Who knows? Maybe she was thinking about what she was going to cook for dinner tonight. They teach that stuff in Psycho-school, don’t they? How to bullshit the client into thinking that they are really listening and are really plugged in when they wish they were anywhere else.
I don’t know, but I was stubbornly determined not to break the stare first. She seemed equally determined. It was an uncomfortable silence.
This went on for a few minutes, and then she caved and looked down at her watch.
“Well, I think we got a lot accomplished today, Virginia. Our time is up for today. Would you like this to be your regular time slot from now on?” She said that quickly and finished with a question, almost sheepishly. I think she knew what I was thinking.
“Yes, this time slot works for me,” I replied dolefully. I was too emotionally drained to bother to go into what I was really thinking and, as I said, I could sense that she knew anyway.
I rose painfully out of my chair (I suffer from Fibromyalgia), gathered my purse, and self-consciously edged my way out of her door. She followed me into the hall; placed a withered, age-spotted hand lightly on my shoulder and smiled at me.
“I have some homework for you, Virginia. I want you to write a story about an event that was pivotal in your life. That way, we will have something to get into right away next week and it will be easier for you to warm up” She said.
Well, that was a good idea, I thought in my head. Out loud; I snapped, “I’ll have to catch one of those damned balls to do that!”
“Exactly! She said with a grin, “One ball at a time, my dear.”
I looked once again into those watery, tired eyes. They seemed a bit wetter. Was that a tear trying to break forth?
It was almost as if she actually cared,
I quickly turned away from her and headed down the hall. She did not say another word. She just turned and went back into her “closet.”
I kept walking, came to the elevator and punched the button angrily, fighting back the tears. Why was I so upset? Why was I so scared? What the hell was I feeling? I didn’t know and I didn’t WANT to know. I stepped outside and sat down to wait for my cab.
My mind was racing as I replayed the things I had said to her inside of my head. The balls were just flashes of color as they whizzed past my head. I squeezed my eyes shut against the afternoon sunlight and shook my head, trying to clear it.
When I opened my eyes, the cab was just pulling up. I was grateful for the momentary interruption of my thoughts. I picked up my purse and headed toward it. As I painfully adjusted myself into the front seat, I looked up at the third floor of her building. She had no window in her office, but somehow I felt she was looking back at me as we drove away.
I rolled down my window and put my head against the door, letting the wind on my face carry me into oblivion.
When I arrived home, I was greeted warmly by my beloved fur-family.
The humans in my household did not even bother to acknowledge that I had come in, as usual.
I put down my purse, went to the fridge, and pulled out a coconut water to drink. I then fell heavily into my chair and began smooching with my overly excited, three pounds, best buddy; Sammy (Chihuahua).
He is always happy to see me.
As I sat in the waiting room of Dr. Stark’s office the following week, I looked around at the walls. I was drawn to a particular picture. It was a portrait of a person taking off a mask, only there was still a mask under the one that had just been removed.
A mask under a mask, yeah, that is appropriate!
I was staring at that picture when Dr. Stark walked quietly up to me. She smiled and I just stood up to follow her.
Dr. Stark has this annoying habit of opening the door to her office, then standing in front of it, expecting me to walk past her to take my seat. I took the far chair this time. I wanted to get as far away from her as I could. I am still nervous and insecure around her. I had my “homework” in my purse, but I didn’t remove it right away.
She sat in the chair by the door, across from me and just looked at me again.
I hate it when she does that!
She is the damned therapist, why do I have to always start things off! My irritation showed in my face because she asked, “Is there something bothering you?”
“Only that you keep expecting me to do your job for you!” I snarled, “You are the shrink! So shrink me! Why do I have to always start off the conversations?”
“First of all,” She patiently explained, “Your recovery is not my job alone. Actually, it is largely yours. We are not here to get me well. This is your time and I am here to guide you and help you to catch and organize all of those bouncing balls inside of you. Speaking of those balls, did you catch one? Do you have your homework with you?” She asked brightly.
My frown faded and I pulled out several sheets of paper from my purse.
“Wow! I guess you did!” She exclaimed.
I started to hand them over to her and she said, “Why don’t you read them to me?”
“OK,” I sighed, “Here goes.”
I started reading…
I guess the most traumatic and pivotal event in my life happened when Dad had us three “Yolcolm” kids kidnapped in the mountains of West Virginia when I was twelve years old.
It all started with a phone call…in 1976. We were living at 109 Benham Street in Penn Yan, New York at the time. When I say we, I mean my mother, some of my siblings, and my oldest brother’s wife who was pregnant with her first child. My brother was in the Army and was stationed in Korea at that time. His wife was living with us until he came home.
Mom and Dad had been divorced for three or four years by this time. My memory is foggy on exact dates…but I was 11 years old (I turned 12 during those nine months) and I had not seen my dad in a very long time. He was living back in West Virginia where he was born and raised.
So, the phone rang…Yokie (brother) and Katie (half-sister) both yelled, “I got it!” and raced to the phone. Yokie tripped Katie, pushed her onto the couch and with a triumphant sneer at Katie, he grabbed the phone and gleefully shouted into it, “It’s yer dime!” He was still taunting Katie and wagging his head as he listened for a few seconds.
Then, his face went ghost white, behind his many freckles and the nasty little triumphant grin fell from his face. He was stunned! Softly he whispered, “Dad?”
“Yeah son, it’s me,” Dad told him. “I’mma ‘fraid I got some bad news fer’ ya that’s a’gonna hurt, boy. Yer Grammaw Mae ain’t long fer this ol’ world. She’s a’dyin’ and her last request is ta’ see her grandkids ‘afore she goes on ta’ Glory.”
Yokie numbly handed the phone over to Mom and softly choked, “It’s Dad!”
Mom angrily snatched the phone from Yokie with an ugly look and growled into it, “What the hell do you want, Maynard?” She listened for a few seconds, then firmly shouted, “Hell no! You ain’t takin’ my kids anywhere!”
Dad said something to the effect of, “They’re my kids too!” because Mom went into her favorite mantra about “Who’s been feedin’ um and raisin’ um and who done run out on um?”
…On and on it went! “You ain’t no kind of father…yadda, yadda, yadda! She then slammed the phone down and started to stomp away. Yokie said, “I wanna’ see Grammaw Mae ‘afore she dies Mom!”
I started crying.
“Grammaw Mae is dying? Oh, Mom! PLEASE let us go see her ‘afore she dies!” I wailed.
My Grammaw Mae was very special to me because I am her namesake. Her name was Loretta Mae, but folks in West Virginia just called her Lottie Mae. Her mother’s name was Carrie Virginia Hamerick, so I was named after both of them. My name is Virginia Mae.
Anyway, Grammaw Mae used to by-pass all of my other siblings as we piled out of the car when we went to visit her and she would come looking for her favorite (me). It always made me feel special to be her namesake and her favorite.
…”No! And that’s final!” Mom screamed at us. We cried and nagged, but Mom wouldn’t budge.
Dad called back.
Mom slammed the phone down, again.
It rang again.
Mom angrily ripped the phone cord out of the wall and threatened to beat the shit out of us kids if we kept nagging her. No dice! We were NOT going to West Virginia; not now, not ever!
“Now shut the fuck up and let me alone ‘afore I lambaste somebodies ass straight through that thar wall!” She screamed at us and glared at me.
We knew it was no use whining any further. She meant it. I just ran outside in tears. I loved my Grammaw Mae!
The next day, we went to school like always. I was glum and uncooperative with my teacher (Mrs. Nester). I was in the sixth grade.
The phone on the wall in the classroom rang around 10 am. Mrs. Nester walked over to it and picked up the reciever, as she was listening to the person on the other end, she was looking straight at me! I had a sick feeling in my stomach! I was sure Mom had killed Dad or vice versa. I had seen so much family violence by this time that I just knew it had to be bad news and I felt like I was going to vomit.
Mrs., Nester said a few words (I was too ill to comprehend) hung up the phone and said, “Ginnie, get your coat and things and go to the office.”
I was petrified! Oh no! Now what? I stiffly gathered my stuff and, trying to fight back the tears; I swallowed hard and headed for the office as a doomed man walks to the gallows.
I saw the office door up ahead and I was so afraid of the horrific news that I just knew was waiting on the other side that I was almost in a panic by the time I touched the nob and turned it.
Dad was standing there and so was Nina Jo (My little sister) in tears. Nina Jo’s real name is Janina Jolean, but Nina Jo is easier to say. Yokie was not there yet. Dad said, “Howdy Slugger!” That was his pet name for me. Only Dad ever called me that. I got that nick-name the day I was born. The story goes:
When Dad picked me up for the first time, I balled up my little fist and slugged him in the mouth as he was attempting to kiss me.
He has called me slugger ever since and told me that story many times. I think about that old story now with renewed L.D.S. (Latter Day Saints-Mormons) eyes and I often wonder how much I remembered of the spirit world and how much I knew about this earthly father of mine! If I knew then what I know now, it is no damned wonder I slugged him!
Anyway, back to that day at school. Basically, we went to school one day and did not come home for nine months. Dad kidnapped us. Back in the seventies, there were not the strict rules in the schools like they have now. Mom had a court order against dad. He was not supposed to come anywhere near us kids. But he just walked into the school and told them that he was our father and there was a family emergency and they just let him take us. Dad took Nina Jo, Yokie and I down to West Virginia without my mom’s permission or knowledge, for nine months of living hell.
As we drove away from the school that day, in that rusty old, red king-cab truck of Dad’s, I was excited and scared, happy and sad, all at the same time. I was happy to get to see my Grammaw Mae, sad that she was dying. I was excited to get back to West Virginia, the farm and the mountains that I loved so dearly, and terrified of that monster behind the steering wheel!
This was Dad!
How can I make you understand? This man was my father, but he was also the boogie man! The monster didn’t live in my closet or under my bed as a small child…he was in the next room, sleeping with my mother!
…and as soon as my mother passed out from the alcohol, that monster crept into my room!
I knew what he was. But my love for my Grammaw Mae was stronger than my fear of my father.
I don’t remember much about the trip down to West Virginia, except us kids asking Dad how he got Mom to change her mind and why couldn’t we go home and get more clothes and stuff. He said that he was our father and he had just as much right to us kids as Mom did (He didn’t, Mom had a court order against him). The tone in his voice made it clear to us that he didn’t want us asking any more questions.
I wasn’t stupid. I was 11 years old. I knew he was taking us against Mom’s will. Maybe I didn’t understand kidnapping, but I was scared. I was very sick to my stomach, you know, like that feeling when you are in big trouble and you just got sent down to the principal’s office? Yeah, that feeling!
I pressed my face against the window of the truck and closed my eyes as he started telling us about the farm up on Blue Nob Mountain and the horses…
Even though I was terrified, I was also suddenly very excited! I LOVED horses!
Also, you need to understand that living with my mother wasn’t a bed of roses either! She was raising 7 kids, alone, on welfare, and drinking constantly. She spent most of her time at the “Liberty” (a bar and restaurant that was right around the corner from our house). She brought many a drunk home with her.
I even had to fight one man off of me with a broom when I was 10 years old! Mom had passed out, I was on the couch in the living room (that is where I slept because I did not have a bedroom at the time) when this drunk pig stumbled out into the living room. He started messing with me. I jumped up and grabbed the broom that was right next to the couch and beat his drunken ass out the door!
On top of that, my older brothers were heavily into drugs at this time. My older sister was very abusive toward me. Three of the four brothers were sexually abusing me (all except Yokie). One of my brothers used to make me pee in his mouth! No kidding! Yuck!
So, yeah; I was terrified of Dad and I knew what going to West Virginia meant, but I wasn’t going any place worse than I was leaving.
Besides, I told myself, the animals and nature and beauty of the mountains were all I needed to survive anything.
I am a country girl at heart and I hated living in town. My mom hated animals. This was so hard for me because animals were my ONLY friends as a child. To be fair, mom didn’t actually hate animals, but she refused to like them. She always said that she didn’t need one more mouth to feed or mess to clean up. She did raise seven kids almost totally on her own while dealing with her own demons.
My mom was horribly abused as a child herself in fact; she had good reason to turn away from animals.
Mom had two pets that she made the mistake of loving (in her mind). She had an orange tabby cat when she was a little girl that she loved dearly. Her father killed that cat in a drunken rage. Mom vowed never to love another animal again after that.
Then, along came Speckle…
…Speckle was a chicken that Mom had raised from a hatchling. I still laugh to this day when I think about the day that my Aunt Mary Ann killed that chicken! You may think that harsh, but I was raised on a farm, I understood that animals were food. I can’t actually kill an animal myself, but I learned how to clean and eat most any critter; wild or domesticated.
I had seen plenty a’ carcass strung up on a tree or cut into strips and hung in our smokehouse. I’ve gutted many a fish, plucked the feathers of many a bird, be it a duck, chicken, turk-neck, or turkey! I have even helped with the hog butchering, so death was nothing new to me. It is just part of life on a farm.
With that said, I guess you just had to be there to see the humor in the whole thing, but it is a family joke to this day. Only Mom never found it funny, and (as I said) she never allowed herself to bond with another animal after Speckle. She is dead now, but she stuck to that resolution after Speckle. She never even wanted another animal in her house again. This made things tough for me and hurt me deeply because animals were my salvation as a child. They were the only “people” who truly loved me.
I’ll get back to the Speckle story in a bit, but I want to tell you about Whiskey (a fur-person who became my best friend) and why my mom’s disdain of animals hurt me so deeply…
One day, my brothers brought home three German shepherd puppies that someone was giving away. My brothers named them: Whiskey, Brandy, and Hooch (Wonder where they got that inspiration?). I fell in love with Whiskey. I don’t remember what happened to Brandy or Hooch because I learned the art of detaching myself from animals ‘destined for the dinner table’ and I only allowed myself to get attached to animals that were ‘mine’. The boys let me keep Whiskey.
Mom kept telling us “NO!” but us kids never respected Mom and we did not listen to her. My brothers NEVER took “no” for an answer. We kept all three of them pups a secret from mom for months. That was easy to do because Mom was too wrapped up in her own mental illness and troubles to really plug in to what her kids were up to. We ran the streets of Penn Yan like wild heathens! I had no rules, boundaries, or bedtime. We ate whatever we could, whenever we got hungry. There were no “dinner times” in our house. We were lucky if there was even food in the house. I remember stealing loaves of bread from stores and ketchup packets from restaurants and living on ketchup sandwiches. I also remember showing up at friends’ houses at dinner time because I was hungry and there was no food at home. I was a bully at school too. I stole kid’s lunches because I was hungry. I am not proud of that, but I did what I had to do to survive.
When I was in foster homes, I would steal and hoard food; for fear that it would disappear before I got any. This always pissed off the foster parents, but they just did not understand that this is what always happened at home. Whenever mom would bring in groceries, the older kids would grab all the good stuff and us littler ones were SOL. The food was ALWAYS gone before the month was over and the last two weeks was “hungry time.” It sucked being one of the youngest because the older kids always got more of the food and I believe that is why I became a bully at school. I needed to control SOMETHING in my life, so I controlled kids that were smaller than I. Also, a girl’s gotta’ eat! This may have been the beginning of my lifetime struggle with eating disorders. I always wondered where my next meal was coming from and when I did have food, I ate it VERY quickly, so I could eat as much as I could before it was gone or taken by one of my siblings.
Anyway, Toby J. (half-brother) had a “room’ out in the garage which was detached from the house and at the back of our property (It used to be a carriage house). Mom never went back there. My brothers had their drug parties out there and mom was oblivious.
So, we kept the puppies out there. Mom did eventually get wind that we still had the dogs when food kept disappearing or Katie told, I’m not sure how she actually found out, but she insisted that we get rid of them. The boys were sick of the responsibility of the dogs by now, and as I said, I am not sure what happened to Brandy and Hooch, but I clung to Whiskey. I refused to get rid of him and kept begging Mom to change her mind and let me keep him. She relented, just to shut me up.
Unfortunately, one day I came home from school to find no sign of Whiskey. I asked where he was and Mom said that she didn’t know. “He must ‘ov run’d off.” She said drunkenly.
I was devastated!
I still remember how cold it was outside. It must have been in November or early December because there was no snow on the ground, but the trees were all bare and I only owned a very thin coat. I spent literally hours and hours, for many days, walking the train tracks, calling for Whiskey. I cried and cried. I really loved that dog.
I was too naive to understand that Whiskey did not run away. He wouldn’t. He was dearly loved and he loved me. I never gave up the hope of finding him. Even when I walked those train tracks as an adult, many years later, Whiskey was on my mind the whole time and it was like I was still a kid and still looking for that beloved dog.
I just remember wrapping my too thin coat around me, gritting my teeth against the cold, with tear-tracks staining my face and snot running down to my mouth, calling out that dog’s name, day after day!
Mom let me!
Every day I would tell her that I was going out looking for Whiskey and she never said a word! Because now, of course, I realize that she somehow disposed of him behind my back. I guess I had myself to blame. She told me “no” but I would not take “no” for an answer either.
I still feel the hurt of losing Whiskey to this day. I still wonder what cruel fate met him.
I stopped reading for a minute to wipe a tear from my eye, sniffled, and went back to reading…
All righty then! Enough about Whiskey…
…back to the trip down to West Virginia. Dad kept bragging about all of his animals (he knew how much I loved animals) and I remembered the mountains. Oh, how I loved those mountains!
So, it is hard to describe the terrified, excited, trepidatious, sick feeling deep down inside of me. In fact, that is pretty much all that I remember about the drive down. Just those horrible, churning, mixed emotions; and Dad, rambling on and on about all the things he had… eyes rolled.
We arrived on Blue Nob Mountain at night and it had rained. Everything was muddy and wet. The driveway that winded up to Dad’s farm was at least a football field long. It was a one-lane, red dirt road that was steep and full of ruts and potholes. The ground was covered with a slick red clay, mixed with the dirt (In fact, Blue Nob Mountain is in Clay County, West Virginia; named for the slick red clay that covered the ground).
Dad had to fight the truck, gun the engine and spin the tires to make it up that hill. It took at least twenty minutes of lurching and bucking, slipping and spinning, but we made it to the top and when we all piled out of the truck, we had to skip and hop over the many mud puddles in the yard.
By the time we got into the house, we were all covered in mud. Dad introduced us to our step-mother. Her name was Surely Enough (spelled exactly like that). Dad laughed when he explained that Surely was number eight out of eight children and her mother was sick of kids by the time Surely arrived. Surely was a drunk (big surprise, right? Not.) We also met Surely’s two daughters: Penny and Candice, our new step-sisters.
I stopped reading for a second and said, “Don’t laugh at me! Yes, I DID have a wicked step-mother and two evil step-sisters!”
I looked up and smiled at Dr. Stark as she snickered softly. Then I looked back down and continued reading…
Penny and Candy were teenagers. Penny was skinny, with dark straight hair and Candy was fat, with long reddish blonde, curly hair. Candy was the older of the two and she had a nasty sneer that told me right away to keep clear of her.
After Dad made his introductions, he said he was going to go to the hospital to see Grammaw Mae. I begged to go! But he said that the hospital was no place for young children and took Yokie instead. Yokie is only ten months older than me!
I was furious!
After they left, I had no desire to stick around these people whom I had just met. Surely smelled of booze and I could tell that I was not going to like my two new “sisters” so I decided to go down to the barn to see the horses and stuff. Surely was three sheets to the wind, she didn’t care. Nina Jo promptly fell asleep in one of the girl’s beds.
I went out to the barn and found several chickens roosting, a cow, some pigs were in a muddy pen outside of the barn, and three horses in one stall. There were an appaloosa gelding and two grade mares, a brown one and a black one. The brown one was obviously in foal. I stayed and petted them for a while, then decided to explore the farm a bit.
It was dark and everything was wet, so I didn’t go far, but as I rounded the corner of the house, I saw the most pitiful sight! It was a matted, muddy, half-starved, pathetic looking dog who was tied with a thick, heavy chain that led under the house. He was soaked and covered in mud.
Even as filthy as he was, I could tell that he was a pure-bred collie. I was sort of an expert on dog breeds. I loved dogs, and I read dog books regularly. I was so excited to meet this new dog that I crawled through the mud and under the house with that poor, pitiful old pooch. I curled up with him for warmth, and then I too promptly fell asleep. (The trip down to West Virginia had been a long one, and remember; I left straight from school. It was very late into the night, by this time. I was exhausted.
I woke up with a start when I heard the truck lurching and lunging up the muddy, red clay driveway. The headlights were bobbing up and down as Dad tried to maneuver that old truck up that slick, rutted, and very steep incline. I heard the gears grinding and the tires spinning and Dad cussing and shouting at the “piece of shit old bucket of rust!” I could tell that he was NOT in a good mood!
I got very scared again and I stayed where I was, under the house, in a muddy little dug-out with that half-starved, filthy old dog! (I came to learn later, that he was not very old after all. He only seemed old to me at first because of the deplorable condition that he was in).
Dad finally made it up the hill and he got out of the truck cussin’ and a’ carrying on, with Yokie right behind him. They sloshed into the house, and after a few minutes, I could not bear the suspense any longer. I needed to know how my beloved Gammaw was. So, I kissed the “old” dog and promised to visit him in the morning. I was already making plans to share my breakfast with him and give him a good bath and brushing.
I was eager to see what color he was! In the dark and with all of those mats, mud, and burs; I had no clue what color he was.
Slowly, I disentangled myself from the dog and carefully picked my way around the muddy yard, to the house. As I walked in, Dad hollered, “Where the hell ‘ave you been?” I assume when he asked Surely where I was, she must have shrugged a drunken shrug and said something to the effect of, “Search me! She’s been gone for hours!”
I brushed a muddy ringlet out of my eyes and said, I’ve been under the house with that old collie-dog ya’ got out there.”
“What!” exclaimed Dad. He was shocked and sure that I was lying. He said that the dog was vicious and told me to NEVER go near him! I could not believe my ears! That “vicious” dog was a sweetheart, even whimpering and thumping his tail weakly as I petted and softly spoke to him. I as much as told Dad all this, but he would not believe me.
Grammaw was momentarily forgotten as the whole family (except Nina Jo, who was still asleep} all trudged through the mud and around the house to see for themselves; with me in the lead.
As we all rounded the corner of the house, I got the shock of my young life! That sweet, gentle, pathetic old dog turned into something from a Stephen King novel! He was snarling and snapping and lunging at the end of his chain like he was rabid!
Dad said, “See? I dun toll’ ya’ that blame fool mutt was dangerous! I don’t want ya’ ta’ go anywhere NEAR ‘im again…YOU HEAR ME?” He shouted.
I said, “Wait a minute, Dad. Back up, let me show you something.”
To my surprise, he and the others obeyed me. They stepped back a few yards. I slowly crept forward…
Dad hollered, “Get back, Ginna’ Mae, ya’ dang fool! That dog ‘ll tear yer blame-fool head off’n ya!”
I ignored him.
I crouched down, and speaking softly, I said, “Hey boy, remember me? We are friends, right?”
The dog looked up at Dad, growled; then looked at me, whimpered and put his tail between his legs and slowly inched toward my outstretched hand. He sniffed it and whined a pitiful whine, wagged his tail a little, then put his head in my lap. I hugged him and kissed him. The dog and I stayed locked together for a few minutes, while I looked back at my gap-mouthed family. They were shocked!
It took Dad two weeks of watching me with the dog before he trusted him off of the chain. The dog’s name was Rex and he WAS a pure-bred collie (I KNEW IT!). After three good baths and a haircut (to get rid of all the mats) and several brushings, he looked almost exactly like the original “Lassie”. He was beautiful, and I loved him dearly! He became my best friend and turned out to be a One-girl-dog. He hated Dad and was afraid of all other people (especially boys and men)
I later learned that Dad originally had two collies, a male and a female. The female was Dad’s favorite. Her name was Trixie. Dad loved Trixie and apparently, she loved him (surprising).
One sad day, Dad accidentally backed his truck over her and killed her. He was so upset at losing his favorite of the two dogs that he took it out on Rex. Dad not only beat Rex but every time he walked past the dog, he could not resist the temptation to kick him.
Rex was about three years old as best as I could tell after I cleaned him up. Dad had bought the pair of collies with the intention of breeding them and selling off the puppies. The Lassie shows were still very popular in the seventies. Sadly, after Trixie died, Dad just turned his anger and grief into hatred for Rex. He tied Rex to the house and that is where he stayed until I met him on that muddy night in May 1976.
When we went back into the house on that first night, Dad broke the news to us that Grammaw had died. She lived long enough to see Yokie and for Dad to tell her that he had all three of us Yolcolm kids and he was going to fight to keep us. She died soon after. She succumbed to stomach cancer (My father later died of lung cancer and black lung. He was not only a preacher; he was also a coal miner).
I was yet again, devastated.
This is a pattern, isn’t it?
I wanted to at least say goodbye to the grandmother that I loved so dearly. Her funeral was a blur. I just remember feeling angry with Yokie, Penny, Candy, and Nina Jo because they went outside to “play” while I stayed inside, close to her body (open casket) and cried. Grammaw’s belly looked like she was nine months pregnant. She was laying there in her coffin with her hands folded, holding her favorite scarf and had two quarters on her eyes. (There is a sad story about that scarf that I will write about later)
We are a Scotch-Irish family and it is a tradition (at least with the West Virginia relatives) to place quarters on the eyes of the deceased so that they will have money to pay the River Styx, boatman to ferry them to the other side of the river.
I also remember That Uncle Noy came up to Dad at the funeral. He said he had to take us kids back up to New York. He told Dad that Mom had Legal custody of us kids and he was breaking the law, taking us across state lines. Dad pulled out his 38 special (hand-gun) and pointed it right at Uncle Noy’s temple. He did this in front of everybody (even his dead mother). He told Uncle Noy (His own brother) that he would kill him before he would let him take his kids anywhere.
Noy knew his brother and he knew that Dad meant what he said.
Noy backed down.
The rest of the day is still a blur to me, but I do remember Dad gathering us three Yolcolm kids around him and asking us if we wanted to go back to New York or stay with him. He wasn’t really giving us a choice because when Yokie and I said we wanted to stay, but Nina Jo wanted to go back to New York, he said some mean-spirited and hurtful things to her, the sent her “ass” outside to “play”. He then called mom and told her that we kids had all decided that we wanted to stay with him. He put us on the phone with her (just Yokie and I) one at a time, so we could tell her so.
Mom was crying when I got on the phone and with a stammering, shaky voice; I told her that I wanted to live with Dad. She knew about my love for horses and she accused me of loving a horse more than her.
She was right, but still.
I was already in and out of tears over Grammaw, so they started flowing again. Dad snatched the phone away from me and started fighting with Mom right there in the viewing room next to his dead mother.
I didn’t stick around to hear the rest. I went outside with my siblings, step-siblings and many cousins.
I also remember that Dad called a meeting later on, in the kitchen of the farmhouse on top of Blue Nob Mountain. He told us that we needed to move off of Blue Nob. (I was not aware of the court order; nor was he, that those New York court rulings meant nothing in West Virginia. He was running scared, because of what Noy had said to him about his breaking the law)
“To where?” Yokie and I asked in unison.
“We’ll find a place down Sycamore Holler.” He said.
My Grammaw Mae had owned most of the land down Big Sycamore and Little Sycamore Hollers (Ya’ll New Yorkers call them Hollows, we called them Hollers). Before Grammaw died, she divided that land up among family. Dad had a piece of it that was not settled. There was no house or barn…nothing but woods, creek, and mountains.
Dad and Yokie set to work at building us a cabin. Dad left Surely and her two daughters up on Blue Nob to tend to the animals while he brought us three Yolcolm kids to camp under a rock cliff at Twenty Mile Creek. We camped there all summer while Dad and Yokie built the cabin.
Dad was hiding us.
I didn’t know this then, but Mom had paid Uncle Noy three times to hike into the mountains to rescue us. Noy tried twice unsuccessfully, but the third time he attempted to rescue us, it was nine months later and A LOT had transpired. Noy was successful in that rescue but that is a story for another day.
I finished with a sigh and looked up at Dr. Stark. Her eyes were wetter than usual. She said nothing for a few seconds, and then just said, “Wow.”
I just raised my eyebrow and waited for her to say more. She cleared her throat and then said, “I wish we could go into this more right now, but I am afraid our time is up…”
“…Of course, it is!” I interrupted rudely, but she put her finger up to stop me from going into a tirade and said, “Virginia, That was a very well written response, but it was also very long. I am sorry, but we will have to continue this next week. May I make a copy of that assignment so that I can go over it again before next week? I would like to discuss it with you further at that time.”
“Sure,” I said dejectedly as I handed the papers over to her.
I started to get up when Dr. Stark lightly touched my arm. She looked at me and said, “I don’t want you to stop writing. I see that reading these letters in therapy will be time-consuming so, instead, why don’t you mail them to me. I will read them on my own time and then we can go over the finer points during our sessions.”
“You would do that?” I asked incredulously. “You would take your own time to read my letters?”
“Yes, I will,” She began, “Virginia, your best tool for success in healing is that pen of yours. Whenever you need to talk, you can just start writing…”
“Actually, I have already done that.” I interrupted again, “I have a journal that I started when I was a teenager.”
“Really?” She exclaimed, “Do you feel comfortable sharing some of it?”
“Sure, how much do you want to see? My life is an open book at this point.” I said.
“Why don’t you make that decision.” She said, “Here is your homework for this week: I want you to write me a letter. I would like to learn more about that time your father kidnapped you, and maybe you can add some things from your journal. You decide, and I will look forward to our discussion about it next week.” She finished with a smile; flashing those teeth again.
“Ok,” I said as I gathered my things. She told me to wait a few minutes while she copied my papers. I went back to the waiting room and looked up at the mask picture again…
I wonder how many masks I have under the one people see, I silently mused.
“You know, we all wear masks.” She said softly from behind me as she walked up and handed me my papers. For once, I smiled back at her.
I wasn’t as upset as I pushed the elevator button this week. I walked into the bright afternoon sunshine and sat down to wait for my cab. I was already thinking about what I was going to write and what I was going to share from my journals.
When I got home, I went to the closet where I kept my journals. There were two boxes full of them. Where do I begin? I thought to myself. I opened the first box and just looked into it. So many journals, so much garbage to sift through; I pulled out the papers from my purse and looked at them, well, I know I wrote that story about Speckle down somewhere, maybe I can start there.
I rummaged around for a few minutes until I found the journal that I was looking for. It was the first one, the first journal that I started back in 1979. Well, that makes sense, I guess; to just start at the beginning. I flipped through the journal and thought to myself, it looks like Dr. Stark has an elephant to eat as well!
It is a good thing that the library has a scanner that is free to use! I just took that first journal to the library the next day. I wasn’t sure how much to send to Dr. Stark in the first letter, but I scanned the whole journal, and then printed up just a few pages of it. I saved the rest to my flash drive and headed home.
I started the letter that afternoon.
You wanted a letter, so here goes. I promised to tell you the story about Speckle and I found it in my journal, so I will just send you a copy of a few pages of that. It turns out that the Speckle story is in the first journal that I started when I was fifteen years old. I guess that is a good place to start anyway because I wrote about my life, my siblings and stuff in it. It will save me a lot of time telling you about my family and history. Also, to be honest, it takes a lot out of me, to remember all this stuff and write about it. It is just easier to send you stuff that I have already written. Anyway, I have enclosed the first few pages of that first journal. I will see you in a few days.
I then added these pages:
Dear diary, December 25th, 1979
Merry Christmas! I say that with tongue placed firmly in cheek! Today is December 25th, 1979. Just seven years ago, yesterday; my Grandma Gleason died. She was my mother’s mother. She died of four heart attacks. Well, she had four heart attacks, but it was the fourth one that killed her. It was Christmas Eve, 1972. My Grandma’s last words to my mother were, “Don’t worry, Beverly; I’m going home for Christmas.” She died shortly after that. Her name was Florence Lillian Clancy-Gleason. She is the one who taught me how to sew and cross stitch. She tried to teach me how to knit, but I was a tad too young to grasp the art of knitting. I still miss her, and Christmas will always have a ring of sadness for me now.
It will always be worse for my mother, though. Since the next day was Christmas and apparently, Mom was the only one who knew how Grandma braided her hair; the undertaker asked Mom to come in to do Grandma’s hair. It was Christmas day and Grandma was laid out on a table with a maroon skirt all around it. Grandma had tubes coming out of her neck and going into this skirt. Natural curiosity induced my mother to look under the skirt. There was a vat under the table full of Grandma’s blood! My mother screamed and fainted! I’m not sure what happened next, but I do know that Mom did somehow manage to do Grandma’s hair the way she always did it. Christmas will never be the same for any of us, but it will always be horrific for my mother. Grandma was put in a vault and not buried until the ground had thawed.
. I mostly just dread Christmas, but it wasn’t so bad this year; I mean at least dad wasn’t here to spoil everything with his drunken rages or to take all our presents away from us or get into a huge knockdown-drag out fight with mom! Can you believe that he made us take all our gifts (I use the word “gift” loosely) back to the store the year grandma died?
As I already stated, it was 1972. I was 8 years old. I will never forget it. He never intended to let us keep them that year. I know that sounds crazy, but you just have to know my dad, I guess. He was on this big ego trip ( he was ALWAYS on a huge ego trip) he went out and spent all this money that he didn’t have to try to “cheer us up” after Grandma’s funeral because nobody felt like opening presents on Christmas day. Grandma had just died the night before, so we just let them sit there for a few days and then on New Year’s Eve, Dad made a big show of Christmas, but insisted that we save all the boxes from our gifts (that should have been our first clue!) then the next day, he found a reason to get all mad at us kids and decided that we did not deserve our presents. He packed them all up and took them back to the store! I don’t think that I really cared that much that year anyway, though I have never forgotten it.
This year (1979) Mom gave me this neat new diary, a sketch pad, some new pencils, and a whole bunch of paint supplies! I got some cool new pastels too. I love to draw and paint; I get art supplies every year, but that never gets old for me. Anyway, since I got this new diary, I decided to write all about my life (such as it is!) My name is Virginia Mae Yolcomb. I am named after my Grandma Yolcomb, on my Dad’s side and her mother. Grandma Yolcomb’s name was Lottie Mae Carpenter- Yolcomb and her mother’s name was Carrie Virginia Hamerick. Grandma Yolcomb got the last name of Carpenter after both of her parents died when she was very young and she was adopted by a family named Carpenter. Grandma Yolcomb’s (I call her Grammaw Mae) Father died when he was working on a roof and he fell off of it onto a picket fence. Grammaw was only two or three years old. Her mother died shortly after that from a broken heart (they say). Grammaw was an orphan and she had a brother, but they were sent to separate homes to be raised separately. Grammaw never knew she had a brother until she inadvertently fell in love with him as a young adult. You see, Grammaw was from a very small town in West Virginia simply called Clay, West Virginia. Clay was centrally located in Clay County and can be found on a map if you look at the very center of the state of West Virginia. Anyway, I said all that to help you to understand how two siblings who didn’t even know about each other could later meet and fall in love. It’s a tragic story. Some of the older members of Grammaw’s family knew the truth; and when Grammaw found herself pregnant by her brother, they decided to get married; not because that is what was expected of them, but because they were truly in love. They eloped. When her older relatives got wind of the marriage, they told her and her brother the truth about themselves and had the marriage annulled. Both Grammaw and her brother were crushed! He gave her a scarf that my Grammaw cherished. She never took it off; even when she later married my Grampa James Yolcomb. She never stopped pining for her first and true love.
This is all family folklore, but I believe most of it because I never saw Grammaw Mae without that scarf (She was even buried with it) and my Uncle Arthur (the child born from that Ill-fated love) was never right. He was born with his kidneys upside down! That man took the LONGEST time to pee that I have ever known! How do I know, you ask? Well, because we had no indoor plumbing, at night and in the winter we used chamber pots that we just called “potties.” In a small cabin, noise travels. I could hear him pee. That man could pee for at least 5 minutes!
I am 15 years old. Most everybody just calls me Ginnie, except Cleave. He still insists on calling me Ginna’ Mae like they used to down in West Virginia. We have been here in New York for years now but Cleave still has his accent. He is older; he was in them hills a lot longer than me, I recon. I did my best to lose as much of it as I could once I started school up here because the kids all picked on me and called me a dumb hillbilly. I’ve always hated that, but Cleave seems to be proud of it. I’ll never forget that stupid show, “The Beverly Hillbillies”! It made us mountain people look so stupid! I admit that I was ignorant, but stupid has NEVER been one of my problems! Humph! That accent was a liability up here in New York for me.
I Have 6 brothers and sisters, well…7 if you count Frankie Hamilton. Frankie was like a brother to me. He used to live up the road a piece from us when we lived in that big red house in Rushville, NY, but his house caught on fire one night and his mom and dad were killed in the fire. He would have been too, but he was at our house sleeping over when it happened. He and Tommy (My oldest brother) were best friends and together, they begged mom to let him stay with us so he wouldn’t have to go into a foster home. Mom figured, why not? He was always at our house anyway and he didn’t eat much, besides; he and Tommy did most of the chores and the watching of us little ones. Mom was a drunk and she never had the patience for us little kids, but Frankie was always kind to me (when he wasn’t sexually abusing me, I should say).
I recon I should back up and tell ya’ ‘bout all my brothers and sisters. Tommy is the oldest…He is mom’s favorite too! Probably because he did Mom’s job for her in raising us kids. It was Tommy that changed my diapers, not Mom. Mom had respect for Tommy but never could stand to even have us younger kids around her. She always told us to “get lost” or “go play in the road until we saw a yellow polka-dotted station wagon!” Yes! She REALLY did say that to us! Many times! In fact, my brother Yokie and I decided to do just that when we were little and mom had to yell at us “stupid Kids” to get out of the road!
“But you told us to play…” I started to sass back but was cut off by a sharp blow to the head. Then, much later; when we were living on Benham Street in Penn Yan, New York, My two brothers: Cleave and Yokie pitched a tent in the middle of the four corners at the junction of Lake Street and Liberty Street. The police had to get involved that time and when they asked Yokie why they had pitched a tent in the middle of the street, he replied: “Just looking for a yellow polka-dotted station wagon!” The cop just shook his head and Yokie didn’t bother to explain.
Anyway, Tommy’s full name is Thomas Michael Walder, Jr, He is 23, married with two kids (Wendi and Tom-Tom) and is in the army, stationed in Manheim, Germany right now. As I said, Frankie was not my REAL brother, but he was like a brother to me. He is dead now. He was killed in a gang fight in Penn Yan a few years ago. He was 18 or 19, I am not sure exactly, but he was close in age to Tommy.
I remember that night like it was yesterday. It was Halloween night. We were living in the stone house that my mother bought from her brother (Uncle Tommy Gleason) at 109 Benham Street in Penn Yan. I was sitting on the couch (by the window) getting ready to go out trick or treating when a rock came flying through the window. Some of the glass struck me and cut my arm. My brothers and Frankie ran outside to see who threw the rock. It was someone from the Indian Pines gang who threw the rock. Frankie was not about to let “those bastards get away with hurting his ‘little sister’.”
A gang fight ensued. You see, Penn Yan is a small town, but it sports two formidable and rival gangs: The Indian Pines Gang and the Frankie Hamilton Gang (Yes that is what they called themselves. Frankie was a bit egocentric). This naturally resulted in a violent fight that happened behind the Pudgies Pizza that was located at those four corners where Yokie and Cleave pitched that tent. Behind Pudgies was a small clearing next to the Penn Yan Channel. It was in this clearing that Frankie died. The fight was so violent that the police hesitated to get involved. All four of my brothers were injured (not seriously) but Frankie was killed. He was targeted. He was the leader of his gang. The other gang members wanted him dead.
Tommy is the smartest of mom’s seven living offspring (four of her children died in infancy). I like to think that I’m the second smartest after Tommy. There is room for argument there. Yokie is very intelligent too.
Then there is Tobias James Walder he is 21; he lives with his foster parents still. He stayed with them even after he got old enough to leave the foster home. Toby J. scares me. He always has. He deliberately tried to kill me once when we kids were playing in the yard. Our parents were not home. There was a big oak tree in the yard. Toby J. had slung a rope over a high branch and there was a knot on the end. He talked me into sitting on the knot. He then started to hoist me up into the tree. When he had me as high as the rope would take me, he deliberately let go of the rope! I hit my head on a root-knot and was rendered unconscious. My other siblings thought I was dead and when I came to, they were all crying except for Tommy and Toby J… Tommy was washing my face and Toby J. was just standing there with a blank look. Toby J. has a dark soul and a black temper! When he gets mad, he loses control! He is dangerous! If somebody told me that Toby J. was secretly a mass-murderer, I would not hesitate to believe it.
Next is Cleave. He is 20; his full name is Cleave Amos Walder. He still lives with mom, but he is rarely home. He has a girlfriend in the trailer, two rows down from us. Cleave doesn’t scare me the way Toby J. does, but I always avoid being alone with him. Cleave is a sexual pervert! Well, Toby J. and Tommy are too, but I hate to think about that stuff, so…
…Moving right along…
…Katie Anne Walder is the fourth child and Mom’s first girl. She is the second favorite child after Tommy and she NEVER lets anyone forget it! She is 19, her last name is Walder too, but she has her own father. You see, the first three boys were the sons of my mother’s first husband; Thomas Michael Walder, Sr. Tom Sr. robbed a liquor store at gunpoint and was sent to prison. While he was in prison, my mother got pregnant with Katie by his brother, Tobias James Walder. Yes, Toby J. has the same name! Makes you wonder about who his father REALLY was, doesn’t it? Anyway, Katie’s father was killed in a car accident shortly after she was born so she LOVES to point out that she is ACTUALLY an only child. The way mom and Grandpa treat her; you would think that she was! As I said, she is mom’s second favorite and Grandpa’s FAVORITE grandchild. She lives with him now.
Katie and I have a strained relationship because she was never nice to me when I was little and it hurt me deeply to see how much Mom loved her and barely tolerated me. Mom taught Katie how to cook and can vegetables, but she never had the patience to teach Nina Jo and me a damned thing! Mom taught Katie how to clean the house, sew, and garden…everything you need to know to be a successful adult. She is still a teen, but she knows so much more than I do! I can’t cook or can.
When we lived on Benham Street, Mom would call Katie into her bedroom and have long talks with her like they were best friends instead of mother and daughter! I was always jealous. I admit that. But there was just cause for that jealousy! I’ll never forget the day, when I was 12 years old, that Mom and Katie were in Mom’s bedroom having one of those talks, and I was jealously ease-dropping at the door when I heard Mom say, “Katie, you and Tommy are my only kids! The rest of them brats can rot in Hell for all I care!” I burst into tears and burst into the room! I told Mom that I would never forget what she said and that I would never forgive her! She and Katie laughed at me and Mom said that I would forget before the week was over!
I have NEVER forgotten those words!
They burned into my soul!
I have been called intelligent and creative, and subsequently thus; a liar. The social worker who worked with our family (Mrs. Hobin) told me that because I was so quick-witted, that I was a “storyteller” and the things that I told her could not possibly be all the truth. Even a judge did not believe me when I literally risked my life to tell him the truth! Really! I ask you…who makes this shit up? Yeah, I admit that I am creative, and maybe I could make this stuff up, but I don’t need to! There is so much horror in the actual things that happened in my childhood, that I don’t NEED to make anything up! Some of the happenings that I am recounting in this journal may seem unbelievable, but I assure you that everything I have written happened, and I write about what happened with just as much verisimilitude as this pen of mine can possibly command! I am scarred for life! More than anything in this world, I just want to be believed, validated, and heard!
OK, rant over!
On to my favorite sibling!
The next in line is the first Yolcomb kid and my hero as a child. Oh, to be sure, I’ve had my ass kicked many times by Yokie! But Yokie is the ONLY one who never touched me sexually! Yokie was safe! In his bed, all I did was sleep! I used to craw in bed with Yokie a lot when I was little; until Dad put an end to it! He accused Yokie of the things that he himself, was guilty of! Dad beat Yokie to assuage his own guilty consciousness! That is if he even HAD one! Anyway, Yokie is 17, then me, I’m 15 and Nina Jo is 14. Nina Jo’s real name is Janina Jolean, but Nina Jo is easier to say. We three Yolcomb kids were the product of Maynard Merle Yolcomb, Sr… Yokie’s real name is Maynard Merle Yolcomb, Jr., but because the men down at the coal mine all used to call Dad by that shortened version of his last name when Yokie was born, dad exclaimed, “Well, lookie’ here! I got me another Yokie!” It stuck! Poor Yokie!! He hates it, he tries to get us all to call him Maynard, but he will always be Yokie to us!
I forgot to mention that after Katie was born, mom lived with a blind man for a while. He used to call Cleave “Jingles” because mom put bells on his (Cleave’s) feet when he was still just a toddler, so he would not get stepped on by the blind man. I can’t remember the blind man’s name, but mom still calls Cleave, “jingles” once and a while.
Sometime after that, mom met my father. Mom didn’t need to get a divorce from Tom, Sr. At this point, because he ended up dying in prison. Mom lived with Dad for 11 years before she finally married him. Mom never really trusted Dad, but he somehow convinced her that he was dying and she wanted to give us three Yolcomb kids a legitimate last name. Mom was warned about Dad. He had other accusations that he managed to slime his way out of. Regardless, it was a stupid reason to get married, especially after the whole sexual abuse thing with us girls had come out. Dad was tried and acquitted of those charges and Mom chose to believe him instead of us “Lying little bitches who were trying to ruin his (dad’s) life” I am convinced that Mom knew the truth in her heart, but she was an alcoholic and she had 7 kids by this time. She stayed with Dad because she was just too scared to raise all of us kids alone.
So, naturally, she married the bastard! Makes sense to me! NOT! Truthfully, I don’t think she ever really loved him. They fought HORRIFFICLY! They both cheated on each other; except I don’t understand how they called it cheating when they were involved in that stupid key club (swingers). Mom had a sexual relationship with a preacher from Second Milo, NY named Dan Benedict. Dad was well aware of the relationship that Dan had with Mom and I’m confused about the details because I was very young, but I knew about the key club thing and I also remember many nights when Dan would be at our house late at night with Mom and Dad, drinking coffee at the table, talking about stuff they “thought” I was too young to understand. Ha! Maybe I didn’t understand everything, but (I’ll say it once again!) I wasn’t stupid! I was very inquisitive (Nosy).
I’ll never forget that disgusting key club! I remember that a bunch of people got together for a party after us kids were ‘supposed’ to be in bed. Being the precocious child that I was (simply put, I was very nosy) I didn’t want to miss a thing! I risked many beatings; spying on the adults! Mom used to try to stop me from sneaking up on those nights, by giving me a shot of ginger brandy before I went to bed. Mom used to give me the brandy at night because I had developed a very difficult insomnia problem since early childhood. I used to be terrified to go to sleep at night! I was prone to night terrors, but Mom refused to see that those terrors were not imagined! I was always afraid of who would be on top of me when I woke up! To this day, sleep does not come easy for me and I never stay asleep for long. I sleep like a cat, with one eye open!
But I digress! Anyway, back to the key club… I also remember that Dick and Betty Lathrop, as well as Dan Benedict, were part of this stupid club. Dick was one of Dad’s buddies. He used to swallow all of Dad’s bullshit: hook, line, and sinker! That man was so stupid and dull-witted that he couldn’t have had an original thought if it smacked him in the face! There were others, too; but I don’t remember them as clearly. I would venture to guess that there were at least four or five other couples, enough to fill up our rather large living room and kitchen combined. They would all get together and drink (these were some of the same people who got together for AA meetings, too!) and at the end of the night, the men would put their car keys into a bowl. The woman would then draw out a set of keys and whomever those keys belonged to, she went home with him. If she drew out her own husband’s keys, she just re-drew. That happened sometimes because I remember the laughter. I stayed up and spied on the adults when they had these parties. I was nosy and afraid I might miss something!
One thing I know, BOTH my parents underestimated how intelligent that “lying little bitch” was! Apparently, “swinging” was very popular in the seventies. But Dad was a preacher! So was Dan Benedict! Can you see now why I hate phony Christians? I saw so much fake, phony bullshit growing up! One thing that I hate more than anything else is “testiphony” meetings; fake piety, and crocodile tears! Lies! Lies! Lies! I hate them! Yet I am accused of being a liar! I hate lies and I hate liars! I won’t say that I don’t lie, everybody lies. But I do hate lies and liars more than anything in this world! Needless to say, Dad didn’t die, and he and Mom divorced just one year after that sham of a wedding! (Dan Benedict married them! That would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic!) Ask me where I get my antidisestablishmentarianism from! I looked that word up because it is the longest word in the English language. (I should tell you, that one of my hobbies is to look up new words in the dictionary and try to find ways to use them in sentences. I developed that little habit when I came to New York from West Virginia and the other kids kept calling me a dumb hillbilly). I showed them who was dumb, many times! I even stumped a teacher a time or two and I LOVED doing that! Tee he!
Mom freaked out when she and Dad separated, because he left her in the country (the big red house in Rushville) with 7, actually 8 kids (counting Frankie). She ended up at Willard State Psychiatric Asylum. All of us kids were separated and placed in foster homes, including Frankie. Mom was told that she could not get us kids back until she was in a stable relationship. So, she went into her favorite bar (the Liberty, in Penn Yan, NY) and loudly asked, “Who in here is drunk enough to marry me?” Herb Barkley was at the bar that night and he spoke up and said, “I am!” They were married within a week, but that marriage only lasted a year as well.
It was not a marriage of love, neither was Dad’s, for that matter. Mom used Herb to get us kids out of foster homes. But some of us (Tom, Toby, Frankie, and Katie) never came home. Katie went to live with Grandpa. Grandpa first tried to get me to live with him. I only stayed one night, because Grandpa was a dirty old man! He tried to have sex with me! He tried, but I wouldn’t let that nasty old bastard touch me! So, he ended up talking Katie into it, by promising to leave her all his money when he died (which he did, at least most of it. He left Mom $50,000 and the rest to Katie, which she blew through in a matter of just a few years).
Grandpa Gleason was a rich old miser and a dirty old man. He sexually abused his daughters too and I suppose that is why mom had the notion that it is a woman’s lot in life to tolerate what men did to them and then to just get even. Mom believed that she needed a man to take care of her and for that, she had to “put out.” That is another reason why I believe that mom stayed with dad even after the truth came out about what he did to us girls. Mom just believed that all men were pigs and it was the lot that women must bear. Men used us, but she taught us girls how to use men right back! Truth be known, Mom hates men. I have never seen her treat a man with respect. She de-balls every man she dates or marries. Mom has been married three times.
Again, I digress…
Tommy went into the army, Frankie just started his adult life, but was killed not long after that. Toby J. stayed with his foster parents. He had gotten attached to them. He had no desire to come home. Can’t imagine why!
In between the marriages, Mom has had many short-term boyfriends, but I think she is planning to get married to her latest boyfriend. His name is Jake Akron. He keeps saying that he is dating Snow White and the 7 dwarfs! Ha, Ha! Very funny! I hate Jake! He is a drunk, like Mom and he is very abusive to Nina Jo and I. He is afraid of my brothers and Katie is with Grandpa, so he takes out his frustrations on us youngest girls, because he doesn’t fear us. My brothers are violent, we girls are not. He is a spineless WUS!
Backing up a bit; again I forgot to mention, that Mom ran off to West Virginia with my father because Dad was a Southern Baptist Preacher (no joke!) and mom was Irish Catholic. Her family hated my Dad and most of them disowned her when she left the Catholic Church. One of her brothers (Uncle Tommy Gleason) actually had a funeral for her and has never spoken to her since! This was especially sad when you realize that Mom named and raised Tommy like he was her own child. Tommy was Grandma Gleason’s last child. Grandma was a drunkard too. Grandpa Gleason swears that Tommy wasn’t his son. Anyway, when Tommy was born, Grandma laid him in my mother’s teenaged arms and said, “Here, this one is yours, YOU raise him!” Mom named him Tommy and she did raise him! After Tommy grew up, he stole a bunch of Grandpa’s money… (Grandpa was a rich man but, as I said; he was a miser with his money. He lived like a pauper.) …and went to California where he used the money he stole from Grandpa to open up a music shop. I have never met Tommy because my mother is dead to him. I don’t know what Bible he was reading, but that doesn’t sound like Christian love to me!
Dad supposedly “led mom to Jesus”. This is comical when you remember that Mom and Dad met at an AA meeting! Dad was a big AA man! He never stopped drinking; he just loved to pretend that he was in “recovery”. Give me a break! To this day, I hate that stupid serenity prayer with a passion! It was always so damned hollow and phony to me! Still is!
We lived down Big Sycamore Holler in Clay County, West Virginia for most of my early childhood, but we came back to New York after Mom and Dad got in a big fight over my uncle and the moonshine (That’s another long story) Anyway, Mom told Dad that if we didn’t leave West Virginia that she would leave him.
We left West Virginia!
We moved to the big red house in Rushville, NY, but we went back to West Virginia that summer. (Just for the summer while we kids were out of school). That first house that we moved to after West Virginia still had no electricity or indoor plumbing but we DID have a pump that pumped water right into the house. That was a luxury after Sycamore Holler! I was so happy to take more baths! Even if we did still have to heat up the water, it sure beats melting snow or hauling water from the creek! We still had chickens and our landlord had sheep penned up across the road next to the barn. We had a big, friendly dog; named “Teddy” He was an orange Chow-Chow. He was tied next to the outhouse, poor thing! But he didn’t seem to mind, ‘cept, of course, he would rather have been in the house with us.
Mom hates animals. She has had an attitude ever since Aunt Mary Anne killed her favorite chicken, “Speckle”. That is a funny story; I will tell you about that in a minute, first I want to tell you about the standoff that we kids got into with our landlord over Teddy. One day, while we were living in that big red house in Rushville our landlord came over to our house to confront us about a dead sheep that he found. Like I said before, he kept sheep in the pasture next to the barn across the road from the house. On this day, he found one of the sheep dead. It had been mauled by something. He blamed Teddy, but Teddy was always tied up next to the outhouse. He never ran loose. The landlord came over with his shotgun; he was going to kill Teddy! We seven kids formed a circle around Teddy and told him that he was going to have to shoot one of us before we would let him shoot Teddy. We would not budge, and the landlord finally gave up and went home cussing us kids all the way to his truck. I don’t know where Mom and Dad were during that standoff over the dog, but I recon they were probably at another AA meeting or something. Eyes rolled!
Another thing I remember about that house in Rushville was the time that we kids ruined the kitchen floor! We were (once again) left alone in the house. We opened up all the doors (in the dead of winter, I might add!) and flooded the kitchen floor with water and snow. We were “ice skating” on the slushy floor! We RUINED that floor! Dad beat Tommy royally for that one! Frankie hadn’t come to live with us yet, but he lived up the road from us and he was in on the ice skating! I just ran and hid when Mom and Dad came home! All hell broke loose; and for once, I was glad that I was one of the little ones! The older kids caught holy hell and I just kept myself well out of the way!
It was at that house that Cleave burned down the cornfield. He said it was an accident but I’m not convinced. Speaking of that house and Cleave, I also remember the funny day when he got bit on the ass by a pack rat! He came running out of the outhouse with his pants around his ankles! He tripped and fell and his ass was all bloody. I laughed hysterically!
I got my Karma pay-back from that the following week as I recall. You see, we had a garden and we kids were in the habit of taking a salt shaker to the garden when we got hungry. I loved scallions and tomatoes. On this day, the tomatoes were ripe. I was hungry. To use Dad’s Army vernacular: I made a mess out of those tomatoes! The term “mess” being the Army term for a complete meal. I ate so many of those tomatoes that my body had a violent reaction to them in the form of explosive diarrhea. It was so bad that I filled my pants before I could make it to the outhouse. I have never forgotten that experience and I’m not a fan of tomatoes to this day!
I also remember that our family broke up for good in the red house. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I DO know that Dad tried to force Tommy to go to church with us and Tom refused to go because he knew that Dad was just a big phony hypocrite and he told him so (we kids all knew about the key club and I think only Nina Jo didn’t understand the implications of it). Tommy’s rebellion resulted in his getting a belt across the face and his eye swelled shut, and it left an imprint of the belt across his face. Dad spent a couple nights in jail and when he came out, he was as ornery as ever. More fighting ensued and Dad just walked out. He supposedly went to the ice cream store but that was code for a Liquor store. He never came home.
As I aforementioned, Mom was left with seven (actually eight, counting Frankie) kids, no car, no job, no money, very little food, and no idea what to do next. She promptly had a mental breakdown. I just remember that she had tipped over the potty. She was “swimming” in the refuse from the chamber pot. She had that nasty shit all over herself and the floor. What a mess! She was out of her head, screaming things that didn’t make any sense. One thing that she kept screaming, I remember clearly. She screamed that they were going to kill her at the hospital, but she was going there to die for us kids. That scared us kids really bad!
Tommy ran into town to get help. We did not have a phone. The next thing I knew, there were police cars, an ambulance and a social worker at our house. The social worker’s name was Mrs. Hobin. She took me and Nina Jo out of the house as they were handcuffing my mother to put her in the ambulance. We were convinced that they were taking Mom to her death (at least us younger ones were) so Yokie threw a can of light blue paint all over the policeman and said that he wasn’t going to let those pig-rat-bastards take his mother ANYWHERE! The policemen overpowered Yokie and put him in the back of a police car.
Mrs. Hobin would not let me go back into the house to get my stuffed snoopy dog.
I was devastated!
She took me to a foster home and later, Yokie ended up in the same home as me. The other kids went to separate foster homes. I never knew what happened to Teddy and I never saw my snoopy dog again either! This was the beginning of my sorrows over beloved dogs and the genesis of my obsession with dogs that has lasted my whole life. All fifteen of my years!
We never did get back together. Dad went back to West Virginia, Katie lives with the Grandpa-pig, Tommy got married and moved on, Frankie was killed…Toby J. stayed with his foster parents…yadda, yadda, yadda.
The day that mom “broke” was a tough day, but it was not nearly as bad as the day that I found out that my best friend was killed and her family moved away to Massachusetts without ever saying goodbye to me! My friend’s name was Jodie Handrich. I loved to go to Jodie’s house because it was all girls! She had two sisters and just a mother. Her dad was killed when he tried to drive his truck across a lake. It fell through and he drowned. Her mother was my third-grade teacher, and she was so kind! I just loved her! I was a “sickly” kid, I had asthma real bad and I had to go to the hospital a lot, especially during winter. I believe that the cigarette smoke in the house aggravated my asthma worse during the winter because I was cooped up and could not get away from it as much as I could in the summer months. Everybody in my family smoked except me. Some were still hiding it from my parents but that was easy to do when they would send us kids to the store to buy their cigarettes. Back then, it was legal for kids to buy cigarettes. I always bought those candy cigarettes and pretended to smoke but my asthma was a blessing in disguise for me because it prevented me from doing as my siblings did; which was to steal Mom and Dad’s cigarettes.
Anyway, while I was in the hospital, Jodie’s sister accidentally ran her down with a snowmobile. Jodie was killed. Nobody bothered to tell me and when I got home from the hospital, I got on the bike that Jodie had given me (because she had two bikes and I did not have one) and I peddled all the way to her house. It was quite a bike hike from our house. This was the big red house in Rushville that I am talking about. When I got there, the house and barn were empty; nobody was there, no cars, no curtains, no furniture…nothing! The whole place was empty!
I was devastated! (that happens a lot in my life)
I ran to the barn after running all around the house trying to convince myself that it wasn’t true and I climbed into the loft and just cried my little heart out! I stayed there for hours. When I finally made it home, I was still a mess! I asked Mom what happened, why did Jodie move and why didn’t anybody tell me? Mom then told me that Jodie had been killed and nobody wanted to tell me because they knew that I would take it hard.
I could fill up this diary with just all the fun stuff Jodie and I used to do, but I am getting tired, I will write about the time that Aunt Mary Anne killed mom’s favorite hen tomorrow. Just writing about Jodie has got me all “weepy” and my hand is getting tired anyway.
Lots more “lovely memories” tomorrow! Bye for now!
Dear Diary, Dec. 26, 1979
I hate that heading, “dear diary” it sounds corny! I need to feel like I am writing to someone, and since the only person who cares about me is G-d, I think I will address these entries to him (you?) from now on. I have trouble praying anyway. Every time I try to pray, I get all distracted. So, maybe this diary will help with that. Except….G-d already knows all the stuff about my family and the story about Speckle, so maybe that isn’t such a good idea…well. Let’s see…who am I writing this to? I guess… me! I am writing for myself, but who am I writing to REALLY? And why do I feel the need to write all about my family and life? I guess I know the answer to that; I need desperately to have someone to talk to that I can trust and so far, that person does not exist. G-d, I guess you are it…I know that you know all this stuff already, but I need to write it and talk about it, so you might as well forget about all those starving kids in Africa for now, because when I get started….Well, just sit back, settle in and get comfortable, because here I goooooooo!
It is a grey, wet, dismal winter day today, and I need something to occupy my time away from everybody else anyway, so I think this diary is turning out to be my favorite Christmas gift! I do not know where everybody else is as I write this and frankly, I don’t give a rat’s behind either! I am in my mother’s bedroom because there are only two bedrooms in this trailer and Nina Jo pissed the bed last night and her room stinks! It is supposed to be MY room, too, but I would rather sleep with a drunken bar rat than in that pissy double bed that Mom expects me to share with her! I just take my blankets out to the kitchen floor almost every night. Sometimes Cleave does not come home and I sleep in his bed. Cleave, Yokie and Yokie’s girlfriend have beds in the living room (well, Yokie has a bed. Cleave sleeps on the couch). Nina Jo has the bedroom in the hall that is supposed to be MINE and hers, Mom and Jake sleep in the room that I am in right now. Mom still owns the house in Penn Yan, but she is trying to sell it. This trailer is on Route 5 halfway between Auburn and Syracuse. Jake (Mom’s new boyfriend) works in Syracuse, and he lives in Red Creek, so he is letting us live in this trailer because it is closer for him to come and go. I think Mom is losing the house anyway, so, Jake is basically giving this trailer to us. I hate it, but I think Mom is going to marry this guy, too!
This trailer sucks! Not only is it WAY TOO SMALL, But It is also located right across the road from Rolling Wheels Race Track! When they have races, there is NO sleeping at night! There is no town close either and I miss running the streets of Penn Yan. Elbridge is down the road a piece, but it is such a hick town, it is not worth the walk! I spend most of my time reading. That is before I got this diary for Christmas. I still love to read, but this diary is WAY COOL. I could just write and write! I have had so much stuffed up inside of me for so long! I don’t know why I didn’t think about keeping a diary before now!
Well, let’s see… I was going to tell you about that hen that Aunt Mary Anne killed, it really is a funny story, so…without further adieu…
The story about Speckle as I promised yesterday…
We were living down Big Sycamore, I can’t remember how old I was, but Aunt Mary Anne is my mom’s little sister and she came to visit. She had never been to West Virginia before. Dad ended up fixin’ her up with one of his buddies down at the mine. She did end up marrying him, but that came AFTER she killed Speckle! I am laughing so hard as I write this that I have to back up and think about how it happened…
…Well, we kept our meat fresh by just keeping it alive until we were fixin’ to eat it. We had no electricity and thus, no refrigerator. Our animals mostly ran loose. We did have some rabbits in a hutch and our brood sow was penned up. When we had shoats (baby pigs) we had them penned up too. But the chickens, ducks, turkeys, turk-necks, horses, cow, and goats all were “free roam”. There were mountains all around and we were penned in by the creek. The animals stayed close to home. They knew where they were fed. They never crossed the creek because it was rapid flowing water. My mom would hand a hatchet to one of the boys and tell them to go out and kill supper. Whatever they killed, we ate. Sometimes it was a farm animal, sometimes it was a wild animal and sometimes it was fish. Dad and the boys all loved to go hunting and fishing, plus we had some good hunting dogs. My favorite of the dogs was Jack. He was a black and white pointer mix. We had a couple Blue Tick hounds, too. The male was named, Blue and the female was named, Bell. We also had a little Weiner dog named, Tonga. Of course, I remember the dogs throughout my life best of all.
Anyway, this time, mom decided to get silly and she handed the hatchet to Aunt Mary Anne. I don’t think she thought that Aunt Mary Anne would actually go out and kill something, she was just teasing her, but Aunt Mary Anne took the hatchet and went outside! This is funny when you realize that she weighed almost 400 pounds! Most of our chickens were smart enough to run away from us, especially when one of us was a’ tote’n a hatchet! But we did have one chicken that never ran away. Dad and the boys knew better than to kill that chicken because it was the one that mom raised from a chick and it was her favorite.
Speckle used to come right up to the porch looking for her handout every time anyone came out of the door. Well, recon you can guess what happened next! Yep! Speckle went right up to Aunt Mary Anne! Mom was chuckling at the thought of her trying to catch something to kill when Aunt Mary Anne waddled into the house with Speckle hanging upside down in her right hand (with no head!) Mom took one look, her eyes got as big as washboards and she exclaimed in horror, “You killed Speckle!”
My aunt did not know that Speckle was a pet and besides, it was Mom’s fault because she forgot to tell her to leave the friendly speckled one alone! Aunt Mary Anne felt bad, but there was nothing left to do but cook her up for dinner. Mom took the bird from her sister, dunked it into the boiling pot of water on the stove by the feet, then handed the scalded bird to me and I took her out to the yard to pluck the feathers. I was laughing and talking to her the whole time I was plucking her feathers…telling her that I was sorry she was having such a bad day and all!
Mom was so upset that she refused to eat that night. We kids didn’t make it any easier for her as we were having such a good time at her expense! We reminded her of one of dad’s favorite sayings, “Don’t get attached. It’s supper!” Also, as the birds (The boys killed two more) went around the table, one of my brothers would comment about how good Speckle tasted tonight and would someone please pass some more Speckle down this way! Poor Mom! She doesn’t eat chicken to this day! Every time we stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken, us kids start in with that, “Yummy, Speckle for dinner!” talk.
I think another reason for my mom not liking animals much was because when she was a little kid, she had an orange tabby cat that she loved. Her dad (the Grandpa-pig) killed it in a fit of rage and she never got over it. She told herself then that she was never going to get attached to another animal, but then she forgot her own advice when she got attached to Speckle. In Mom’s defense, I have to admit that Speckle was a special chicken. She bonded with mom right from the beginning, like she thought she was her momma-hen or something. It was just an unspoken thing that the boys or Dad never killed her. They just knew mom was attached and nothing was said about it. Mom would never admit it. She used to always say that she had too many kids to be bothering with critters too! I think after Aunt Mary Anne killed Speckle, she remembered her resolve from when she was a kid because she never did get attached to another animal again. That makes it tough for me, as I love all kinds of critters, but mom never lets me keep ‘um when I bring ‘um home. I guess that is one reason that I miss West Virginia. I do miss all the wildlife, the farm animals, and the mountains; but I will never go back to West Virginia. There are too many ghosts from the past down there for me now.
Mom just got home and she is ranting about the dishes not being done, time for me to make a quick exit….I will write more when I can…
December 27, 1979
I’m in Mom and Jake’s bedroom again. Mom isn’t home and Yokie is monopolizing the TV again. I don’t watch much TV because the boys always pick the show and never let me concentrate on the show anyway! I love to read and I love my radio. It’s hard to find a quiet place to read or listen to a radio in this stupid trailer, though! There are only two bedrooms and Nina Jo pisses the bed. That room always stinks to high Heaven! I never go in that room if I can avoid it! As I said, I just take my blankets out to the kitchen floor and sleep there most nights. Mom knows I use her room a lot too, but she doesn’t yell at me because there just isn’t anyplace else to go in this cramped tin can! I sleep in Cleave’s bed/couch some nights because he doesn’t come home a lot. We kids run wild. We do whatever we want and sleep wherever we feel like it. If I decide to spend the night with a friend, I don’t even bother to tell Mom. Mom is in her own little world and we kids are just a nuisance to her. I know she must love us, because she married that drunken bum, Herby to get us kids out of foster homes. I just don’t understand why she treats us like she hates us most of the time.
I guess I know it’s the damned bottle that rules her life and when she crawls into it, there just isn’t any room for us kids. School is a refuge for me. I love school! I love to learn and I love surprising my teachers with how well I do my work. I take pride in my grades. Mom never bothers to look at my report cards, so it is all up to me. I’m kind of glad Mom ignores them because it’s always embarrassing! I get straight A’s except in Math, but the teachers always comment things like, “very intelligent, but a time bomb ready to explode.” I have a bad attitude and I get into fights a lot in school. I hate the other kids. I hate them all! And I hate all men! I pretty much just live to impress my female teachers. I get a high out of it. It only last for a little while, then I have to think of another way to impress them. Anything! Just to get a few words of praise! I’m an artist, so that helps a lot. I am also involved in set design for the school plays. It gives me an excuse to stay after school and I love designing the sets. I even sew the costumes. I do it all by hand because I don’t know how to use a sewing machine. I’m really good at sewing, though. My Gramma Gleason taught me how to sew. I alter my own clothes. Most of my clothes are hand-me-downs, so I have to get creative to have anything decent to wear. Fortunately, creative is my middle name!
Sometimes it sucks being so creative and smart, though. On the few occasions that I have tried to tell the authorities about the Hell of my home life, they tend to not believe me. Mrs. Hobin told me that I was too creative and my stories were unbelievable. I know that some of them sound crazy, but that has been my life and it does no good to try to rise above it because nobody believes me when I try to tell them! I know that is why I hate so much! I’m so angry inside! I pretty much hate everybody and that makes me a bitch at school. I’m kind of a bully too. I rob kids’ lunches because I’m hungry! Mom never gives us lunch money! We get reduced lunch, but I can never even afford that. I usually skip lunch unless I’m really hungry, then I find a smaller kid to steal lunch from. I know that makes me a bully, but when I’m hungry, that’s all that matters at the time. There is never any food in this house and I’m SO SICK of ketchup sandwiches!
The ball rolls down-hill, and my being a bully is only because that is all I have ever known. I have four older brothers and one older sister and I get my ass kicked on a regular basis! I will never forget the time that I got even with Katie, though. It was in that house on Benham Street in Penn Yan. I have always been a loner, my whole life. I have survived by making myself scarce as much as possible. On this day, that is exactly what I had done. I had spent the whole day down at the creek. I love running water, it soothes me. Plus, I like to take my sketchbook out and just draw myself away! I read ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ when I was little and I liked to pretend that I was Harold and I could draw myself anywhere and anything I wanted. It was my escape from the Hell of my reality.
On this day, I came home after dark. This was not unusual for me, we kids had no set rules to live by, but Katie was just being a bitch that day. Mom had made a big pot of spaghetti and left it on the stove for us kids to eat whenever we were hungry. We didn’t have regular meals. Not while Mom was in between husbands or while married to that drunken bum, Herby! Sitting down to dinner was Dad’s thing and after Dad skipped out on us; sit down dinners NEVER happened again! We kids all just grazed on whatever we could, whenever we could. That is why food never stayed in our house long. And the foster people could not understand why I hid food under my bed! It is like a free for all when Mom comes home with groceries! The older kids get all the good stuff and I get whatever I can find! Mostly, I live on ketchup sandwiches. I steal Ketchup packets from restaurants and I steal loaves of bread from stores.
Mom taught us how to steal. She got all our school supplies that way. She would bring us all to the store and stuff our backpacks and pockets. If one of us got caught, she would make a big show of yelling at us while the others got out of the store with the stuff they had. We would also split up and us younger ones would do something distracting so mom could stuff the older kid’s. It was a routine that we had down pat. So, naturally; when I was hungry I stole food. I’m a survivor.
Anyway, the spaghetti was on the stove, I hadn’t eaten a thing all day, so I just started helping myself. Katie came up behind me and knocked my plate out of my hand! I said, “What the fuck!” And she said, in that sneering voice of hers, “If ya’ can’t be here when everyone else is eating, then ya’ don’t eat!” Mom was at the bar by this time and Katie was just in the mood to be a bitch! I told her to go fuck herself, and she slapped me! We started fighting and she was much bigger than I was so I grabbed the first thing within reach of me (a coat hanger) and I flung it at her with all of my might. It caught her in her front teeth, knocking one out and chipping the other one!
Katie was a very vain person and her first thought was, “Oh my G-d! Now I’m going to be ugly!” She started crying and carrying on like the world was ending! She ran to the bar where Mom and Herby were (The Liberty, was a bar that was just around the corner from our house) Mom came home drunk and pissed! She started beating me so bad; she was kicking me against the wall with her high heel shoes. She was actually stomping me with them as well as punching me with her fists and I blacked out. Cleave had to help me stumble to bed after that beating. Herby could see that I was really hurt and knew that Mom had gone overboard with the beating and for once, he took my side! They started fighting and I was too “out of it” to know how long they fought. I do know that things got broken and the fight got physical. They were both drunk, this was not unusual. But finally, Mom said, “What do you expect I should have done to her? She ruined Katie’s looks!” Herby said, “You should have just slapped her!” So Mom called me downstairs and proceeded to slap the living shit out of me, till Herby pulled her off! She said, “There! I slapped the little bitch! Ya’ happy?”
The Bitch was mom’s pet name for me; still is. They continued to fight and I stumbled back upstairs. I was so covered in bruises that Mom kept me out of school for two weeks until the bruises healed up. She took “Miss Priss” to a dentist the very next day and had a false tooth and cap put in her mouth. She did nothing for me and my many bruises!
That is OK, though because I get some satisfaction every time Katie smiles! Katie is a smoker and a coffee drinker and those false teeth yellowed! I see my revenge every time she opens her mouth, even to this day!
I also got even with Mom.
She told the school that I was sick. I spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals when I was younger. I had asthma pretty bad back then and a simple cold would often as not, turn into bronchitis or pneumonia. That is why I missed so much school. So, the school could have easily believed my mother (were it not for me!) Those bruises were still yellow and light green when I went back to school and I showed them to the nurse and told her the TRUTH about how I got them. Mom was arrested and I went into a foster home. I later ran away from the foster home. I stole one of the other kid’s bikes and I road it all the way back to Penn Yan from the foster home in Dunn Dee. Mrs. Hobin tried to stop me, but I wouldn’t listen. I’ll explain the reason in a few minutes.
When I got home, Mom was in bed (hangover). I yelled, “Mom! I’m home!” She said, “What the Hell are you doing here? You’re no longer my kid!”
I was crushed!
Especially when I went upstairs to find my bed was gone and Katie had taken most of my stuff. Mrs. Hobin showed up at the house later and I refused to go with her. My life at home sucked, but it was all I knew and at least at home, I had no rules and I was free to run the streets of Penn Yan. Finally, Mrs. Hobin just threw her arms in the air and gave up on me! I know I was being a nasty little bitch to her, but when you get called that enough, you tend to start acting the part! I was filled with rage! I was hurting inside so bad that I just hated everybody who tried to help me! I knew I was being unreasonable, but I wanted someone to care enough about me to fight for me! I wanted Mrs. Hobin to love the ugliness out of me! I wanted those stupid foster people to care about me! I wanted SOMEBODY to care about me! But nobody did. I wish I was making that up.
Even G-d was silent when I was little.
Backing up a bit, the reason I ran away from the foster home was that I was getting shoved around to different homes. The first foster father could not stand me. He told me that the ONLY reason that I was in his house was that he was getting paid to put up with me! In truth, I was a very difficult child. I was labeled by this time as ‘emotionally disturbed’. I hated men at the time, so I was kind of a bitch to him. Everybody called me a bitch, so I acted like one! So, Mrs. Hobin took me to a new home. I really liked the foster mother at this new home, but naturally, I hated her husband! He forced me to watch him butcher a bull! I’d seen my share of animals death, but I never watched a bull being strung up by his hocks while still alive and having his head cut off as his means of death. Dad did spare us younger girls a lot of the grisly details of farm life, but that foster bastard thought it was a good education for me! I already had night terrors and trouble sleeping and staying in bed. That bull compounded those problems! I started having horrible, bloody nightmares! I kept having this recurring nightmare that my mother was chopped up in small pieces and in a clear plastic bag between the wall and my bed! I SAW her there, chopped up! It was vivid! It was in color! It was REAL to me! I would wake up the whole house with blood-curdling screams and that foster bastard said that I was just doing it for attention. I frazzled everybody’s nerves, including my own. I fought bedtime. I stole and hid food. I picked fights with the other kids. I was mouthy and disrespectful. I deliberately broke rules because getting grounded was funny to me! I was used to beatings! Getting told to go to my room, alone, with my books and sketchbook was NOT a hardship! I pushed every limit because it felt so good to have limits! It was like; somebody cared enough to make rules! Cool! But I thrived on negative attention. Negative attention was all I felt I was ever worth, and I thought that at least these people cared enough for me to try to set limits. My mother just pretty much ignored me, unless she was taking aim to throw something at me!
Mrs. Hobin showed up one day to tell me that I was being moved, again! I was so hurt that nobody wanted me! They had another foster child. His name was Chris. Chris and I were the same age. They were adopting Chris and getting rid of me! As Mrs. Hobin was trying to explain to me why I was being moved to another home, I ran away from her and ran into the cornfield. I ran as hard as I could until my lungs were about to burst! Then I fell into a heap in the cornfield and just cried my eyes out!
Nobody wanted me!
Mrs. Hobin didn’t believe me when I told her that the foster bastard was mean to me. I told her what he said to me. He said that he only put up with me because he got paid to. He denied it and he was believed! I was a storyteller. Mrs. Hobin rarely believed what I told her.
Anyway, out in the cornfield, the dog caught up with me and I was in a heap, on the ground, crying into his fur when Mrs. Hobin finally found me. I’ll never forget what she said to me! She sighed, and said, “Oh, to be a dog!” I had caught my second wind by then and I ran away from her again! I wanted her to chase me! I wanted the attention! I wanted her to care about me! But she didn’t run after me. I grabbed Chris’s bike and I headed to Penn Yan. Mrs. Hobin got in her car and followed me, driving slowly, trying to get me to stop. I took my hands off the handlebars and used them to stop up both my ears! I was crying so hard that I could barely see and I almost ran the bike into her car! That is when she gave up and drove off. I peddled the rest of the way to Penn Yan and Mrs. Hobin showed up at Mom’s house later. I was being such a bitch! And I knew it! But I was hurting SO MUCH! I just wanted somebody to care about me enough to fight for me!
Again, nobody did.
I stayed with Mom, but my mother rarely spoke to me and when she did, I was “the bitch.” Even to this day, she never calls me, Ginnie. It is always, “You fucking bitch! Get out of my face!” Or, “that fucking bitch did it again!” I was always outsmarting my mother and it only made her resent me all the more. I found ways to PROVE some of the “stories” that I kept telling Mrs. Hobin because by now, I knew I had to have proof.
I hid a tape recorder under my mother’s bed one day, and then bated her. I got her on tape calling me horrible names and wishing I had never been born. I didn’t tell her right away that I had the tape. Mrs. Hobin made home visits and Mom always turned on the charm! I let her dig herself into a nice little hole and then when Mrs. Hobin was reprimanding me again for trying to stir up the pot (she even reminded me that I wasn’t happy in the foster homes and that I needed to learn to respect my mother) I brought out the tape and played it right in front of Mom and Mrs. Hobin.
Now, who is the liar; bitch?
I wasn’t taken to a foster home, because there was no one that wanted me, but Mrs. Hobin wrote it all up in her report and Mom was royally pissed at me for outsmarting her! Mrs. Hobin made Mom go to parenting classes and Mom made my life a living Hell after that! Those classes only made her meaner! She resented them and blamed me.
OK, enough of these crappy memories! I can’t take it anymore! I’ll write more tomorrow! I’ll try to find something positive to say! Ugh! I hate my life!
December 31, 1979
I’ve decided that dear diary is corny so I’m not going to address my entries anymore. After reading over my last entry, I decided to write a good memory. Well, it was ‘sort of’ good, anyway. It was while I was in the second foster home, after that beating over Katie’s teeth. I don’t know where the foster father was that day, but the mother decided to take us kids to a field filled with dandelions to take pictures. She brought Chris and me with her along with her two natural kids. She took pictures of them, Chris, too, but not me. I tried to pretend that I didn’t care, but it hurt me deeply to feel like an outsider. It would have been easier if she had excluded Chris too because he was a foster kid too, but they were adopting him. I was just a temporary member of that family and she was just taking pictures of her kids. I busied myself with the dandelions and acted like I was having a good time, but I never forgot it. Someday, I’m going to have kids. I will never play favorites and I will take lots of pictures of them!
OK, I guess that was not such a happy memory after all, but I don’t really remember happy things. I did love that dandelion field idea and I plan to do that when I have kids someday. So, that’s good, right?
I put four stamps on the letter because it was so thick and felt pretty good as I placed it in my mailbox with the stamp side sticking out so that my mail-person would take it the next day. I wondered to myself what parts of it Dr. Stark would want to discuss with me and I was actually looking forward to our next session.
I never saw Dr. Stark again.
The following week I sat in her waiting room, anticipating our discussion about that letter, when a tall, thin, attractive woman who looked to be in her late forty’s or early fifty’s walked into the waiting room. Of the four people sitting in the room, I was the only female so she looked at me and asked with a warm smile. “Virginia?” I was taken back, not expecting this strange woman to ask for me, but I replied, “Yes, that’s me.”
“Hi, my name is Rhonda.” She said. “I will be your new counselor.”
“What!” I exclaimed. “Where is Dr. Stark?”
“Why don’t we discuss that in my office?” She said with a barely noticeable shift in her demeanor as she gestured towards the hallway with her left hand and reached out to me with her right. I obediently rose and followed her.
When I walked into her office, the first thing that I noticed was that she had a window! The second thing I spotted was my letter, sitting on her desk. I sat in a comfortable vinyl arm chair (one of three) and gave her a puzzled look.
Instead of sitting at her desk she sat in one of the two remaining chairs, across from me. She looked at me and said, “There is no good way to tell you this, Virginia; but I am sorry to inform you that Dr. Stark passed away two days ago.”
“Oh my G-d!” I exclaimed. “How?”
I swallowed a lump in my throat as Rhonda replied, “She passed quietly in her sleep. The doctors say it was a stroke.”
I just sat there for a couple minutes, gap-jawed. I didn’t know what to say, when Rhonda broke the silence by picking up my letter, placing it in her lap (I could see that it had not yet been opened) and asked, “Are you going to be OK?”
Again, I didn’t really know what to say. I was in shock. I suppose I did kind of like Dr. Stark after all, even though she annoyed me. I wouldn’t admit it, but I was looking forward to talking to her about that letter. I was sad to see that she never got the chance to read it. I didn’t suppose that this new lady would be as willing to read my letters on her own time, so I just looked at the letter in her lap and said,
“Dr. Stark asked me to write her a letter. It is all about stuff from my past. She thought it would help me to open up if I wrote the stuff down. I do write better than I talk, so it did help I guess, but I see nobody has opened it.” I said with a sigh.
“I am sorry to admit that I have not had a chance to.” She replied sheepishly, “I was assigned your case only just yesterday. It looks pretty thick! Why don’t you tell me about it?
“Like I said, it is just some pages from my journal I started as a teenager, just stuff from my past.” I mumbled.
Rhonda reached behind her and picked up my folder. She had it out and sitting on her desk before I got in there! She flipped it open and pulled out the sheets of paper that Dr. Stark had copied the last time I saw her.
“Wow! You really do like to write, don’t you?” She said as she looked down at the papers.
I nodded, and then said sadly, “I suppose you have not had the chance to read those papers yet, either.”
“Not yet. But today, I just wanted to focus on you and make sure you are going to be Ok.” She scooted a little closer and took both of my hands, gave them a squeeze, then smiled a beautiful smile, with perfect teeth!
Rhonda O’Conner is a well-dressed woman. She looks to be about my age or younger, but is in far better shape than I (I don’t look my age. I look at least fifteen years older than I actually am. Time and gravity have not been kind to me). She has short, pristinely styled strawberry blond hair. It looks to have been blown dry, then styled with a curling iron and some sort of styling gel. Not a hair was out of place. She has aged gracefully with an oval face, soft brown eyes, and tanned skin. She is wearing a form fitting dress that shows off her still very attractive figure. She is wearing high heeled shoes with no stockings. With those long, thin, beautifully tanned legs, stockings are not necessary.
Clearly, she cares about how she presents herself and takes the time to look her best; unlike me, who barely looks into a mirror as I run a quick brush through my white, unruly hair and mostly look like I just rolled out of bed! I just don’t care enough about myself to take the time. I throw on whatever is clean and never take a second look in the mirror.
Looking at Rhonda, I am painfully aware of just how badly I have let myself go over the years.
“I’ll be fine.” I stated forlornly, “Dr. Stark isn’t the first and won’t be the last person in my life to die suddenly. Honestly, I didn’t really know her that well and I am mostly annoyed that I have to start all over again with someone new.” I looked up at her eyes briefly to see if she would judge me for that last statement. She had no response, at least nothing that I could detect.
She readjusted herself in her seat and said brightly, “Well, not entirely; I have all of her notes, the intake, and these letters of yours. I am going to be on vacation next week and if my husband doesn’t throw a fit about my taking work with me, I was thinking that I would take your folder with me as reading material. Regardless, I plan to read them before I see you again in two weeks.”
Wow! What were the odds that I found TWO counselors who were willing to read my stuff on their own time? I was incredulous, but I kept that thought to myself.
“So, no appointment next week; then?” I asked redundantly.
“No.” She said, “But I have something for you.” She reached behind her and pulled a large white paperback book off of her shelf. “Have you ever seen this book?” She asked as she handed it over to me.
I recognized it right away! The book was ‘The Courage to Heal’ by Ellen Bass. I had bought a copy of it when it first came out back in the eighties. I had tried many times over the years, but never managed to get past the first few chapters. I think I even still had my copy of the book somewhere in my house.
“Yes, I know this book.” I replied. “It is a very good book, but I have never been able to read it completely. It brings up too much pain for me.”
I started to hand it back to her but she stopped me.
“I was thinking that we could go through this book together, Virginia.” She said with yet another bright smile. “Why don’t you take it home with you? My home work will be to read the stuff in this file of yours and yours will be to start reading this book.”
“I can’t even recall how many times I have started reading that book. I never get past the first few pages! It brings up too much crap for me.” I replied.
“How many times have you tried to read it with the help of a therapist?” She asked.
“Well…n-never.” I stammered.
“Good!” She said with too much enthusiasm, “We will do this together! You read as much as you can, then maybe write down why you feel the need to stop; then I will see you in two weeks. OK?” She smiled again.
I swear; the Sun sparkled off of her teeth that time!
I rolled my eyes as I realized that she was about to announce that our session was over. She slapped her thighs and rose swiftly from her seat. Man! I wish I could move like that! I rose sluggishly and painfully out of my own seat and she surprised me with a hug. I am not used to being touched, so that took me back for a few seconds but she just acted as if I had no reaction at all and steered me out of her office with one hand on my shoulder.
I turned and said, “Have a nice vacation.” I actually meant it too. She smiled and said, “Thank you, I will. I am looking forward to doing my own homework.”
“How many clients do you have?” I asked her.
She answered with her own question, “Why do you ask that?”
“Because I’m wondering how many letters you read at home from your clients,” I replied.
“Not all of my clients are as insightful and articulate as you are, Virginia.” She said kindly. “If you write better than you speak, as you say; then I am actually looking forward to reading what you have written.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that so I just looked at her. The shock was in my eyes as she chuckled and gestured toward the nurses’ station. “Just be sure to stop and set up next week’s appointment.”
In fact, the nurse set me up with two months of appointments. I think I am going to like this woman. I hope she doesn’t die too; I thought, miserably.
I was embarrassed by the title of the book in my hand so I tucked it into my purse as best as I could and headed for the elevator with my left arm covering the part of the book that was sticking out.
When I got home, I settled into my chair with my best buddy, a hot cup of coffee and the book. Well, here goes nothing; I thought to myself as I opened the book and Sammy wiggled and snuggled deeply inside of my shirt.
I am an avid Bible reader and I like to mark passages and record my thoughts as I read so I always have within reach of me, sticky notes and various pens and highlighters. As I read the first few pages of ‘The Courage to Heal’ I started feeling my usual anger. It really bothers me when self-help books list ‘some’ symptoms that I ‘might’ be experiencing and I can then check off almost every damn one of them listed!
I feel so broken.
I made good use of the sticky notes and also wrote in the margins of the book. I was able to read all the way up to the first writing assignment when I stopped. The assignment was about the effects of the abuse and how it was still affecting my life today. I was tired and I just did not have the will to get into those feelings yet. I closed the book, sighed, and reached for my computer.
For the next two weeks, I just could not bring myself to pick up the book again. So it sat there, next to my chair until I packed it into my back pack (it is too big to fit in my purse) and headed outside to wait for the cab that would bring me to my appointment with Rhonda.
I wonder if she had the chance to read my stuff. I wonder how much of it she would believe. I wonder if she likes the taste of elephant meat.
If you like what you have just read, stay tuned for my book to come out! I have been given a book deal and the publisher does not want me to place any more of the book on line. We want to sell the book after all!
I will be sure to notify everyone when the book is published and where it can be acquired.
All my best,